Experts predict that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. This is a frightening and sobering thought, and one of the key drivers behind the massive push from food packaging companies to make their products more environmentally friendly. Sometimes, however, these intentions fall short of the desired mark. Chief scientist for the UN, Jacqueline McGlade says biodegradable plastic is “well-intentioned, but wrong,” as when it ends up in the sea, it doesn’t have the right conditions needed to break down.

The entire area of “environmentally friendly” packaging is confusing, and many packaging products boast that they are made from “biodegradable” and/or “compostable” materials. But just what do these terms mean, and what is the difference between them? So that we can fully understand the impacts that packaging materials have on our environment, we need to take a more detailed look at the terms used to define and sell these materials.

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Degrade simply means to break down, while the prefix “bio” refers to the way in which something breaks down – by a biological process or via bacteria or fungi, for example. A biodegradable product breaks down into carbon dioxide, biomass and water. In order for packaging products to be classified as biodegradable, they must completely break down and decompose into natural elements – typically within 12 months of their disposal. Some companies that advertise their products as being biodegradable are not strictly sticking to these scientific guidelines, but use the loophole that nearly everything will biodegrade in 10,000 years!

What Does Compostable Mean?

Compostable materials are similar to biodegradable ones in that they are both intended to return to the earth safely. The main difference between the two is the length of time they take to break down via biological processes. Currently, the international legislation states that in order to be classified as compostable, a product must show at least 60% biodegradation within six months.

According to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), plastic must meet three criteria before it can be classified as compostable:

  • It must biodegrade (into carbon dioxide, water and biomass) at the same rate as paper.
  • It must disintegrate so that it is indistinguishable in the compost.
  • No toxic materials or by-products must be produced while it’s biodegrading.

Although Perfotec’s polymeric modified atmosphere packaging film is not made from recycled materials, it is biodegradable by composting, and can also be recycled. In fact, Perfotec packaging products are ideal for granulating and converting into other sustainable items, including books, bags and even benches! These are long-lasting items that can be used constructively. This means they don’t contribute to the wasteful degradation of the planet.

Mapflex is the proud supplier of Perfotec MAP products in South Africa. If you’d like to know more about this amazing product, please contact us today.