There is no question that in today’s world that both consumers and retailers have become more aware of how their decisions are affecting our planet. Few would argue that there is a great benefit in developing products and packaging that are biodegradable. But this begs the question, what does biodegradable mean?
While definitions can get very scientific and discuss the differences between aerobic and anaerobic degradation, most people consider biodegradable to mean that the material can be broken down into organic components. Essentially, biodegradable materials can be returned to the environment for re-use as opposed to polluting the earth or increasing landfills for years, decades, or centuries.
Of course, as the plastics industry attempts to roll out new biodegradable plastics, people have really started to study the biodegradability of packaging. As one would suspect, biodegradation can take place in many environments, above ground, in soils, in landfills, in compost bins, etc. Unfortunately, while global standards exist to certify compostable plastics (ASTM D6400) and compostable packaging (ASTM D6868), these standards apply primarily to the controlled composting conditions typically found only at industrial composting facilities. It remains quite uncertain as to whether many of these plastics will degrade quickly in standard landfills or backyard compost bins.