Recycler: be cautious with biodegradables
It is with great interest that I am reading of the developments in the biodegradable plastic segment of our industry. It is obvious to me that the industry is finally starting to pay attention to the impact that our product has on the environment. This is itself a positive development and I hope this trend continues.
While biodegradables seem like a totally green product that may play a part in solving the legislative and environmental problems facing us, I would like to caution the industry to pause and think through the entire concept of biodegradable plastic and whether it will really help the environment long term. For something to biodegrade, it needs two things, oxygen and sunlight. If you think through the waste disposal methods throughout the United States, we take care of our trash primarily in two ways: incineration and landfill, which needs to be covered daily. Neither of these options provides the two necessary ingredients for a product to biodegrade.
So if biodegradable plastic is to really work, the only way is to expose it to the elements. Does this mean the plan is to litter plastic on the side of the road and let the elements do their work? That is not sound environmental policy [but] if you think it through, it is really the only way that plastic will ``biodegrade.''
Another factor to consider is, what will biodegradable plastic do to the quality of products currently made from recycled plastic? Has anyone done any long-term studies of the effect of biodegradable film in plastic lumber, for instance? Will this deteriorate the finished product? Since decking is exposed to both elements required to biodegrade (sunlight and oxygen), doesn't it just take common sense to conclude that adding biodegradable plastic to composite decking will deteriorate its quality?
There is, to my knowledge, no way for recyclers to separate out biodegradable from nonbiodegradable plastic for their recycling needs. Even if there were, it would be just one more expense added to ``someone else'' to put the equipment and/or labor into this separation. If biodegradable plastic truly does become commonplace, I fear this will inadvertently hurt the recycling infrastructure irreparably.
I would urge the industry to take environmental responsibility for our products. Figure out ways to use recycled product in your merchandise. It is being done, but needs to be more commonplace, right here in the U.S. Make the investment in cleaning systems and front-end recycling equipment. Create the demand for recycled plastic and the material will get recycled, and legislative bans will go away on their own.
Currently there are too many segments of our industry that count on someone else, be it recyclers, haulers, cities, states, etc. to solve the disposal problems associated with plastic. Stop fighting these people and work together with them to take ownership of the products you are putting into our environment. On the surface, biodegradable plastic seems like a good environmental initiative, but if you think it through it may not be as green as it seems.
APC Recycling LLC