With all of the amazing efforts to create products that push toward a more green disposal process consumers are being left holding the product and feeling a little unsure just how to dispose of it. This is due to a lack of understanding terminology and a lack of clear labeling on the products. The first product that comes to mind when I think of this topic is Sun Chips. According to the Sun Chips website they have the first 100% compostable chip bag. There website includes a section called “Composting 101” that explains the process of disposal that can be found here Compostable Packaging 101 – Sun Chips
This is great but what do the actual bags tell you to do? On the back of the Sun Chips bag it states that in about 13 weeks there will be a “breakdown into compost in a hot, active home or industrial compost pile” it then states “Don’t compost yet? Learn more about our bag, what it’s made of and how to compost effectively at www.SunChips.com” The bag is vague and pushes consumers to visit their website to actually learn how to dispose of it. There’s nothing wrong with this but if you are driving in your car on a road trip you may find it tempting to just chunk the bag in the garbage rather than holding on to it until you get home so you can visit the website and learn how to compost it. If the labeling on the back of the bag just gave the instructions I think consumers would see that the whole process is so simple.
By making consumers go visit your website it seems like there is too much information to include on the bag and that can seem daunting to a consumer. We live in a world where people want instant information at their fingertips. Why not just include the instructions on the labeling of the bag? This blog is not picking on Sun Chips but simply just recognizing that if companies were to label products more clearly we as consumers would know just how to dispose of the products instead of just giving up because we do not understand.
Here are some key terms you should know to help you better understand all those labels out there.
Industrial composting refers to large scale composting systems that are being used more commonly as an alternative to landfills. Here is a short video that will show you an example industrial composting. More info here
Home composting refers to a process that can be done in most backyards in a homemade or manufactured compost bin or even an open pile. The bins should include 4 ingredients: nitrogen, carbon, water and air. For more details on home composting visit this site More info here
Biodegradation refers to when plastic or any other material degrades over a period of time. Biodegradation can occur in either aerobic (with oxygen) or anaerobic (without oxygen) environments.
ENSO plastics do not begin to biodegrade until the plastic is placed into a highly microbial environment i.e. landfill. Once placed in a microbial environment the ENSO additive has a microbial attractant to help facilitate microbial colonization. Once microbes have colonized on the plastic they digest the additive which causes the production of specific enzymes within the microbes. These enzymes are the key to plastic biodegradation. The microbes break down the resulting material through atomic reorganization to use some of the atoms as energy and leaves behind either methane (anaerobic) or CO2 (aerobic) and inert humus. Having the plastic biodegrade from microbial digestion is the natural process of everything and does not leave behind any polymer residue or toxic materials.
Degradation can be initiated by oxygen, ultra violet light or heat. In many cases these products begin to degrade the moment they are manufactured which leads to a shortened useful life. When something is degradable it means the plastic is only broken down or fragments into smaller and smaller pieces and will never completely disappear.