Many food producers today are going the extra distance to be more environmentally responsible by using sustainable methods to produce their products.
It gives them great pride not only in the quality of their products and the efficiency in making them, but also in how they are perceived by the public. However, all too often, they are let down by the irresponsible packaging materials they use because there are just no other options.
As any operator who ships products knows, the amount of plastic used in packaging is high. From plastic stretch wrap, plastic bags, plastic packing tape used to seal cartons, to those little ‘Packing Slip Enclosed’ stick on pouches. They are all single use plastic that is mostly discarded. The shipment may have only travelled across town, meaning those items had a useful life of a few hours then thrown away. Even if the freight was shipped interstate, they only had a life of a few days.
Mainstream plastic packaging products are designed to be low cost, convenient and fast to apply with little thought given to what happens to them afterwards. And as plastic is inert, these single use items can last 100’s of years in a landfill. Until recently some of this was “recycled” which means it was sent to China for processing rather than be reprocessed in Australia. However with the introduction of the Chinese sword policy earlier this year, this has come to a stop and Australia is struggling to deal with its plastic waste.
Now using new technology to reduce the amount of plastic accumulating in landfills, an Australian company BioGone, has produced a line of packaging materials that will naturally biodegrade away when the plastic is disposed to a landfill.
Incorporating an organic food source additive into the plastic at the time of manufacture, it makes the resulting plastic product attractive to naturally occurring microbes that exist in modern landfills. The microbes seek out the food and in the process the enzymes they secrete break down the long polymer molecules to the point where they can be digested too.
The resulting products of the biodegradation are a biogas and a biomass (humus). There is no plastic residue left or any toxic constituents. Unlike the older ‘degradable’ plastic inorganic additives that cause the plastic to break up or fragment into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic, the BioGone additives result in the biodegradation of the plastic material.
How long does it take to biodegrade?
This is the top question asked about landfill biodegradable plastics. Biodegradation is a complex process involving many strains of microbes at different stages. What might biodegrade fast in one location may be slower in another facility. A thin wall section like a bag will biodegrade faster than a thicker section like a food container.
A healthy well managed modern landfill with recirculation will have much faster biodegradation rates than a small rural type dump for a landfill. Microbes are not unlike people. Give them good food, moisture, and suitable temperatures then they will perform well. One way to explain the biodegradation time is to say the product will biodegrade in a landfill 95 per cent faster than the non biodegradable same product. Hence if a plastic bag takes 100 years to biodegrade down in a landfill, then the BioGone bag would be expected to biodegrade down in five years.
The landfill-biodegradability is confirmed by ASTM tests performed by independent laboratories in the USA. The tests are performed in an incubator with landfill sludge and the amount of CO2 evolved off over the duration time of the test is measured and reported on as the percent of biodegradation that occurred.