Is Compostable Packaging Doing More Harm Than Good?

Scientists have announced that they’ve completed a deep-dive in the Mariana Trench, only to discover a plastic bag and sweet wrappers in its murky depths.

Given that the trench’s deepest point is more than 2,000 times the height of Everest, we can safely assume that humankind’s obsession with plastic has now polluted every corner of the globe.

Right now, there is money to be made from appealing to our eco-friendly instincts and our desire to decrease our reliance on plastic; stories like this just emphasise the urgency that Greta Thunberg has also expressed.

But we all need to be on our guard; rather than relying on alternatives, avoiding plastic use entirely is really the only way to deal with the problem.

Biodegradable and Compostable Plastic Can Survive for Years

Any effort that we can make to reduce the environmental impact of plastic should be welcomed. But researchers recently found that so-called ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ carrier bags don’t break down in the way we might expect.

In fact, many of the bags found in this study are still strong enough to carry shopping after three years underground.

The key point is that special facilities are often needed to degrade these new eco-plastics, and it isn’t good enough just to put them in landfill and hope for the best.

Photo of plastic waste on beach

In water, compostable bags broke down after three months, but with completely unknown environmental effects. For example, there’s a chance that the partial breakdown of these materials could result in more microplastic fragments polluting the sea, our bodies, and the bodies of the creatures we eat.

Products like sugar cane plastic require a hot composting facility, something that isn’t yet available in the UK for trade customers.

The Answer: Give Up Single Use Plastic

To have a positive environmental impact, there are three things you can do:

  • Avoid using plastic or plastic-coated bags entirely; switch to cotton totes
  • Don’t ever buy fresh produce wrapped in plastic
  • Use reusable cups rather than takeaway cups, which are plastic coated
  • Avoid household or baby wipes which generally contain plastic materials; switch to reusables
  • Don’t rely on compostable plastic unless you know it can be processed properly and not just buried.

We are also doing our bit by providing greener options:

  • The Pantry will soon be stocking Maistic bin bags. They're made of a type of wheat fibre that's compostable at home using ordinary composing techniques.
  • Where possible, we use Vegware; 38% of the UK’s trade waste clients now have access to its disposal facilities, making it one of the best compostable options in the country.
  • We also take our laundry liquid refill station to as many local events as possible. If you’re coming to use our refill station at the next Cleobury Mortimer Farmer’s Market, don’t forget to bring your empty bottles!

Wherever possible, we use paper bags, except when hygiene regulations force us to use plastic (such as when packaging Wackley Brook meat). We’re always looking for ways to reduce this further and we welcome your ideas and feedback.

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