This is what “biodegradable” looks like

We have badgers that visit our back garden and last night they decided to have a rummage in the compost bin. This is what spilled out …

What looks like pieces of plastic are actually compostable kitchen bags for food waste. They have been in the compost bin–a space that is specifically designed to break down waste–for two to four years and have yet to completely disappear.

Are biodegradable and compostable products better than plastic-based packaging that can take centuries or millennia before they start to degrade?

Of course.

But “biodegradable” and “compostable” are not magic words that mean that an item has zero environmental impact. It doesn’t make a product invisible if tossed in our community, countryside, or coast.

Why am I harping on about this? For a start, so many responses to last weekend’s balloon releases included the phrase “Well, they’re biodegradeable” to refer to the balloons. What damage can they do to wildlife in the years that it can take them to degrade?

In the same way, what message does littered packaging send? Someone seeing a rubbish strewn roadway isn’t going to care if an item disappears in three years instead of three hundred when debating whether to toss their own rubbish. It still sets a social norm that littering is okay.

We definitely need to improve packaging (more on that in a future blog post), but we also must target the behaviours we want to change. We must be willing to dig a little deeper to find new solutions to what is becoming an old problem.

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