We all know that we need to recycle, reuse and compost where we can, but these days it’s hard to know whether we're doing the right thing, or what these terms even mean?
It doesn’t help that there seems to be an endless number of choices available all claiming different benefits.
While recycling paper, glass and metal items are easier to wrap your head around, the jargon around plastics has become more and more confusing. To help you make sense of things we’ve put together a glossary of terms that always crop up in our product descriptions. As well as some of the products we recommend if you’re consciously trying to make a switch that's better for the environment.
Common Terms Explained
There are four main categories that often get confused or misused when it comes to plastics or food waste:
These are plastics or polymers that are technically ‘degradable’ i.e. you can break them down (whether with a hammer or by a chemical process). These are petroleum-based and will not break down in a landfill unless exposed to heat or sunlight, in other words, if you bury them in a landfill they will not decompose.
Further, the chemical by-products produced by these mean they cannot be placed with biodegradable or compostable waste as these have the ability to contaminate whole batches of biomaterial.
Example: plastic forks, milk bottles and single-use plastic bags made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and the low-density polyethylene (LDPE) used to make plastic wrap, thick plastic bags and toys.
These are plastics/polymers that contain additives that increase their ability to break down faster under the right oxygen-present conditions. These additives allow microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi or even worms to consume the material, breaking it down into water, carbon dioxide (then returning to the earth to complete the natural carbon cycle), and biomass - another name for organic matter.
This term, however, has become confusing, as although biodegradable products technically break down faster, it can still take months or several years for this process to occur. This can make choosing products with the biodegradable label misleading. Tip: look for a transparent manufacturer who states how long their products take to degrade.
Biodegradable products also have the potential to release methane (a harmful greenhouse gas) if disposed of in a landfill, which means it’s incredibly important to sort and recycle these at a dedicated recycling centre or place in your yellow bins. When methane is collected properly, however, it can be turned into a very valuable resource (your natural gas supply is made up of methane for example).
Side note: see 'Other points below' for more on organic biodegradable material.
Example; bioplastics, wood or paper products, plant waste, coffee grounds.
Recommended product: Envirochoice disposable plates.
These are plastics (also known as bioplastics) that break down into ‘black gold’ or nutrient-rich fertilizer under the right controlled-conditions. Instead of petroleum or polymers, they are made from organic matter already deemed ‘biomass’, such as corn or plant oils, and contain no chemical additives.
According to Australian standards, a product can be labelled ‘compostable’ if 90% of it will biodegrade within 180 days of being composted.
What isn’t widely known is that in order to fully complete this compost cycle the bioplastics need to be composted at an industrial composting facility (such as this one). These facilities provide the right temperature, humidity and constant turning needed in order to facilitate breakdown.
While you can compost these products at home, they are unlikely to break down successfully into usable fertilizer.
Example: bioplastic containers, plant-based coffee cups, fruit and vegetable scraps.
Recommended product: Envirochoice enviro cups and bowls.
These plastics that contain a special additive designed to break down under oxygen-rich, heat and sunlight conditions. They also do not emit methane as they degrade.
The degradation process (around 18 months) is somewhat unique as, even though oxo-degradable products are made from plastic/polymers, once exposed to oxygen they will become brittle and break down into a form that can be ingested by microorganisms, and eventually turn into carbon dioxide and biomass much like biodegradable products.
However, there is considerable debate about whether oxo-degradable plastic should be recycled with biodegradable products or not, as some say they have the ability to affect the biological decomposition process of these products.
Example: Oxo-degradable straws.
These are products that can be recycled into new items if placed in your yellow bin for collection.
Example: glass, paper, plastic and metals. More info about what you can recycle here.
These are items that have been made from items that used to be something else.
Example: plastic lunch containers, cardboard containers
Recommended product: Fresh View recycled enviro packs.
Other points to note regarding recycling/composting:
- Organic matter such as food waste and coffee grinds emit methane gas (25 x more toxic than carbon dioxide) if deprived of oxygen in a landfill. This is where your garden compost is most useful!
- If in doubt, leave it out. If you're not sure whether your item can be recycled, it's safer to leave it out of the recycling bin than to contaminate recycled products (even though it may be caught by sorters).
- Recyclables include newspapers, paper, magazines, cardboard, glass bottles and jars, plastic containers such as juice bottles, milk, ice cream, margarine and yogurt, aluminium including drink cans and foil trays and steel cans.
- Bundle soft plastic bags together and take to a recycling centre.
- Some things like plastic bottle lids or plastic knives and forks cannot be recycled as they are too small for the sorters, you can, however, place them into a larger plastic container.
- Always clean your recyclables before binning them and remove lids. Liquids and trapped air can slow down the recycling process.
- You can recycle milk/soy cartons in most facilities. Make sure you rinse, dry and flatten these.
- The easiest way to recycle is to not have to! Try to Integrate reusable products into your life such as fabric bags and stainless steel water bottles as much as possible.
Want to know more about our biodegradable/compostable products?
At Taldara we have a range of biodegradable or compostable disposable products in our catalogue. You can view these here. If you’re unsure of what products will work best for you, why not give our sales consultants a call? They have extensive knowledge of our biodegradable range of products.
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