Biodegradability Claims

by Todd McDonald on December 6, 2011

Imagine you are holding a plastic water bottle marked “100% Biodegradable Recyclable” or even better, “The first ever 100% Biodegradable Recyclable & Compostable Plastic Bottle” – odds are you would assume that when tossed in a backyard compost or nearby landfill, it would do just that.

However, that is not always the case.  In fact, according to the Plastics News article “Calif. sues firm over ‘biodegradable’ labels” bio-bottles such as these can actually represent a contamination threat to the PET recycling stream.

One reason this is the case is as Brenda Platt (Coordinator of the Sustainable Plastics Project) explains her recent article “Biodegradable Plastics: True or False? Good or Bad?”,  “Truly biodegradable plastics are plastics that can decompose into carbon dioxide, methane, water, inorganic compounds, or biomass via microbial assimilation (the enzymatic action of microorganism). To be considered biodegradable, this decomposition has to be measured by standardized tests, and take place within a specified time period, which vary according to the ‘disposal’ method chosen.” As such, “the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) has created definitions on what constitutes biodegradability in various disposal environments.”

Standard Disposal Environment
ASTM D6400 Commercial composting facilities
ASTM D5988 Soil
ASTM D6692 Marine water
ASTM D6691 Fresh water
ASTM D5271 Wastewater treatment facilities
ASTM D5511 Anaerobic digestion


Put more simply, materials certified to be biodegradable in one disposal environment are not necessarily certified for another…leaving the door open for both consumer confusion as well as deceptive advertising.

With such a wide variety of standards to understand combined with the ever increasing risk of legal action against suppliers and manufacturers alike, it is essential to work with a partner like TEQ who is not only intimately familiar with these standards but also has a high level of expertise with a wide variety of thermoforming materials.

At TEQ, we have what it takes to help our customers comply with the latest regulations and standards surrounding biodegradability. Do you?


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim Traub December 13, 2011 at 4:15 pm

The amount of green washing and mis-information around bio-plastics and other “green” packaging materials is staggering. The general public is uneducated on the connection between materials, the disposal process, and the only infrastructure is mixed stream recycling. For bio-based, compostable packaging materials there are very, very few large scale commercial composting options (Wisconsin has 2), the chances of any household consumers waste making it to them pretty much zero. While the notion of bio-based packaging materials is noble, and sustainability is certainly important, we are probably creating more problems than we are solving until the education and infrastructure gets established more.


Todd McDonald January 20, 2012 at 10:07 am

Agreed, consumer confusion is a great risk when it comes to biodegradablity claims – and the infrastructure needed to support recycling of bio-based compostable packaging has a long way to go. That being said, we believe now is the time to establish a deep understanding of developing standards, such as those by the ASTM.


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