Sure, it's part of his job. But if Steve Mojo has a mission that goes beyond being executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute in New York, it is to help people understand the difference between biodegradable and compostable, and to erase many of the myths that have emerged about sustainability.
``The idea of biodegradability has a strong appeal to consumers, but it is misunderstood,'' Mojo said at the Global Plastics Environmental Conference in Orlando. ``Some think that biodegradability is a license to litter, but that is not the case. And others think that something synthetic can never biodegrade, and that products made of natural materials are automatically biodegradable. Neither of those is necessarily true.''
Contrary to what many people think, biodegradable and compostable are not the same thing, and ``bio-based does not guarantee biodegradability,'' Mojo said.
``Some things do not compost quickly enough ... and others have a moisture content too high to be considered biodegradable.'' And, he added, ``People incorrectly believe that materials based on petroleum will not biodegrade or compost, but there are synthetically based plastic resins today that will biodegrade and compost.''
Companies developing bio-based products must attend to those issues because of unanswered questions about ``where these products are going to wind up,'' Mojo said. Many bio-based products today are disposable food-service items, he noted.
``[Polylactide] is here today,'' Mojo said. ``Metabolix's resin is coming soon. DuPont has a material that is renewably based, but not biodegradable. And there will be four or five more bio-based resins in a few years. Everyone's job in the plastics industries is getting much harder.''
Companies can't look only at performance and value in developing products, but must consider disposal options and choose among feedstocks that are renewable and bio-based or petroleum-based, he said.
Mojo also pointed out that the plastics industry must develop and adhere to guidelines as to what may be labeled renewable, which is critical to recycling plastics properly. Companies need to show that ``the entire product or package will completely break down into elements found in nature, biodegrade within a reasonably short period of time - typically 60-90 days - and show evidence that biodegradation occurs after the customer disposes of the product,'' Mojo said.
``You need to show what percentage of the materials will go away. If you get up past 65 percent, there is a reasonable amount of certainty that all of it will biodegrade. Minimal levels of biodegradability don't make a material biodegradable.''
BPI promotes the production, use and recovery of biodegradable and organic materials through composting, and has certified, through an independent agency, 27 products as biodegradable. Its labeling program, created with the U.S. Composting Council, has identified plastic products designed to biodegrade satisfactorily in municipal and commercial composting systems.
There are now 100-300 U.S. composting sites capable of handling food scrap, Mojo said. The bulk of municipal and commercial composting facilities are congregated between Seattle and San Francisco, and in southern Los Angeles and the eastern Canadian provinces. By the end of April, BPI will launch a special Web site, findacomposter.com, to help companies find such facilities.