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Confused about all the terms for recycling?

It's very easy to get confused by all the terms to describe packaging types and there has been a huge influx of new terms and even people with an expertise in the environment, even we were fooled by the term biodegradable in the beginning, so we have decided to explain what the different terms mean and we also want to show you how much better compostable packaging is when compared to recyclable and biodegradable plastics.

This is a process where the materials used are made from natural sources such as corn / sugar cane waste generated by the food industry.
All compostable products are tested to break down in commercial composting facilities ( it takes a bit longer in home composting) in 13 weeks and it has to meet either EN13432 and ASTMD which are pretty much the same standards of testing as all certified products have to comply with these standards.

1. Biodegradation - materials turn to soil through microbial action at the same rate as paper.
2. Disintegration   - the materials fall into small pieces.
3. Eco-toxicity       - seeds can germinate in the resulting compost and it can be used for plant growing.
4. Safe Disposal   - the compost is safe for use on the land.

There's also a bit they don't test for but compostable packaging also has the benefit of creating at least 68% less carbon and the waste product is actually good for the environment.

The Good Bits
Composted packaging is usually made from waste plant materials so it removes a waste product and turns it into a net benefit for the planet.
Composted packaging uses less energy and generates less carbon.
New materials are being brought into the market increasing it's uses and improving it's performance.
The materials used are typically generated in poorer countries which increases the income for poor farmers.
Due to new technology, prices are coming down all the time and is predicted to get cheaper.
Composted packaging helps to improve the soil structure of soil it is disposed of in and research in the US has found that it actually holds more 2.5 times more water than standard soil, which can be used to reduce flooding.

The Bad Bits
Not all councils have the facilities in place to properly dispose of compostable packaging so sometimes it is disposed of in landfills , although they still end up improving the soil structure of the soil they are disposed of in and they don't cause any environmental damage as they are made from plants after all.
There is a cost difference compared to plastic packaging which has now come down to about a 8% difference.

Pretty much everything is recyclable and it less a question of what can be recycled but more about where the recycling facilities exist and what they will recycle.
The most commonly recycled items are.

Plastic: Such as water bottles, plastic bags, plastic wrappers and bags.
Glass:  Which includes wine and beer bottles and even broken glasses.
Paper: Including magazines, newspapers, books, envelopes and cardboard boxes.
Metals: Like canned foods and soft drink cans.

The Good Bits
Recycling uses existing materials and refashions them which conserves resources.
Reduce Co2 compared to use virgin materials.
Reduces landfill usage.
Reduces energy usage.
Some materials can be recycled indefinitely.
Glass - As many times as you want.
Aluminium Cans - As many times as you want.

The Bad Bits
Lack of facilities, due to huge upfront capital costs there isn't enough recycling facilities.
Lower quality end product as each time its recycled the material becomes weaker.
The number of times that something can be recycled varies by type 
Plastic - Usually twice.
Paper - Up to 7 times.
All recycled items use more electric and create more Co2 than compostable packaging.
When plastic and paper can no longer be recycled it ends up contaminating landfills and gives no positive end of life benefit like composted packaging that turns into compost.


Biodegradable is a confusing term as it implies it's better than it is ( you can do wonders with a bit of marketing) and it actually means that it will break down by biological means into smaller pieces of a period of time.
The problem is there is no standard to define what time frame this takes and how toxic the end product are, so this definition is so wholly that there is only one thing that isn't biodegradable which is glass as it never breaks down in soil.
We haven't included any good or bad bits as it's sadly all bad bits.
Some of the things that are biodegradable by this definition are
Toxic waste, batteries and chemicals.
So not a good thing but it does sound good.

Have anything to add or have questions, get in touch with our Environmental Guru's