Biodegradable products are those that can be decomposed by natural biological processes including microbes where exposure to air, moisture and other natural elements enhance the breakdown. Biodegradable products include food packaging supplies such coffee cups and takeaway containers.
The introduction of “biodegradable plastics” during the late 1980s had amassed confusion and skepticism as manufacturers of food packaging supplies were able to make claims of their products’ biodegradable quality even without undergoing scientifically-based tests to determine that certain standards were met. While some of the materials were actually biodegradable, many of the products were not. The skepticism stemmed largely from several plastic products which were touted as “eco-friendly food packaging products” yet did not biodegrade as expected.
Advancements in technology have improved product quality making biodegradable plastics safer for people and the environment. The manufacture of food packaging supplies is now required to adhere to the biodegradability and compostable standards as approved by the national government. As plastic wastes have caused untold damage to the environment as well as cost governments millions to address landfill issues, governments and private institutions are increasingly engaged in producing quality and authentic biodegradable products from natural raw resources native to and readily available in each country, these products include coffee cups and takeout containers.
The use of biodegradable materials has grown in popularity as more and more people adopt the concept of living a greener lifestyle. Packaging is one industry where consumers’ environmental concerns are now targeted and unequivocally heard. Research and development of biodegradable materials has produced coffee cups, bags, plates, cutlery and takeout boxes made of materials that degrade naturally and are recyclable through composting. Eco-friendly food packaging products are beginning to have a remarkable impact which simultaneously spurred tougher recycling regulations in countries such as Japan, Australia, Europe and the US.
Half of Australia’s states and territories have now banned single-use, lightweight plastic bags. South Australia was the country’s first state to ban HDPE bags in May 2009, the Northern Territory followed in September 2011 and the Australian Capital Territory in November 2011. From November 1, 2011, retailers in Tasmania were no longer allowed to provide shoppers with non-biodegradable, lightweight HDPE shopping bags that are less than 35 microns thick. This campaign for a state-wide plastic ban in Tasmania which started in Coles Bay became Australia’s first town to phase out the use of plastic bags which in turn, significantly reduced the use of plastic bags by two million bags. While there is pressure on the states of Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, it is believed that Australia is generally heading in the right direction.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is devoted to developing standards and evaluating biodegradability of food packaging products with respect to different environmental and disposal conditions such as composting. Establishing globally acceptable standards with certification and logo schemes will ultimately help safeguard the environment.