Taking A Closer Look at the Meaning of ‘Biodegradable’
Trenton, NJ-based TerraCycle Inc. specializes in the creation of recycling systems designed to process materials that are typically difficult to recycle. The company then converts this waste into higher-value consumer products and packaging (a process known as “upcycling“).
In a semi-regular NYT blog feature called “Sustainable Profits,” founder Tom Szaky shares his views on waste and the operational challenges of running his business. This week, he discusses the complexities of the “biodegradable” label as applied to plastic products:
The obvious benefit of biodegradable plastic is that it has the perceived ability to decompose when it becomes waste. As with many green practices, however, the devil is in the details.
When you look at any object it is important to look at both how it is made and how it is disposed of. With biodegradable objects, it is disposal that is the problem. Something made from biodegradable plastic will not decompose thoroughly in a landfill, because oxygen is required for such material to decompose properly and landfills have very poor oxygen flow. That means that throwing the biodegradable cup into the trash is basically as bad as throwing a normal plastic cup in the trash.