There is so much harm being done to our environment, especially with plastic, that biodegradable packaging and labelling are become more common. It may be a small contribution to the problem but using biodegradable labels can become a significant change if everyone uses them.
Biodegradable labels are not labels that are made from plant-sourced or sustainable materials. It is possible to make labels from plant sources (such as sugarcane) that are NOT biodegradable (though they may be recyclable). Biodegradable labels are labels that will be broken down by nature – fungus, bacteria, natural chemicals and plants.
Technically everything is broken down by nature – even plastic. The real questions are how long it takes, what conditions it breaks down under, and what it breaks down into during the process. Some biodegradable labels have a chemical added to them that needs to be exposed to oxygen or water to trigger the decomposition process. These oxo-biodegradables create micro-plastics that are considered harmful and therefore not a good alternative to standard plastics.
Composting is the breakdown of materials into the soil. The good thing about composting is that there is a standard to measure against.
Other forms of Biodegradability (such as into the air or water) don’t have such a standard. The most widely accepted standard for composting is the European compostable packaging standard (EN13432). Labels that meet the EN13432 standard break down into water, CO2 and new cell biomass. To meet the standard they have to do so within six months. Something to consider, however, are the conditions under which the composting takes place. Importantly, the standard requires the label not to generate any harmful by-products. Particular attention is paid to potentially toxic elements.
Despite their eco-friendly credentials, biodegradable plastic labels are a problem for home and municipal waste disposal. Biodegradable plastic can’t be recycled with standard plastics. If they are included with plastic, they will contaminate it. As they are not paper, they will contaminate paper as well. They can’t be disposed of with food waste because they take longer to biodegrade (unless they are put through an industrial composting process).
In many local authorities, biodegradable plastic labels go to landfill, and whilst they will breakdown more rapidly than standard plastics, and won’t leave any toxic residues, they may contribute to powerful greenhouse gasses such as methane. Talk to us about your hopes for clean labels.