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Biodegradable and compostable film: a quick guide

If your business is looking to become more environmentally conscious, the chances are you’ll have discussed how you can make your packaging fit in with this. We’re starting to lose count of people asking us for biodegradable or compostable alternatives to regular plastic film. So, what’s it all about?

We find that a lot of people often confuse biodegradable and compostable plastics, but in fact they’re different and have different impacts on the environment. Here’s a quick guide to help you learn more…

Biodegradable films

Biodegradable films are plastic based films that have additives included in the manufacturing process. These additives, usually enzymes, enable the plastic to break down.

When the film breaks down, it simply turns into smaller pieces of plastic. Therefore, biodegradable films aren’t as environmentally friendly as they’re cracked up to be. Biodegradable plastics also require specific conditions to break down, such as sunlight or certain temperatures. This means they can still take years (even decades) to break down and can leave behind micro-fragments of plastic. Plus, they can sometimes emit CO2 when they’re decomposing, which isn’t ideal.

Compostable films

Compostable films are made from bio-polymers, such as starch or polylactic acid (PLA). Just like biodegradable films, they require certain conditions to decompose and under legislation, they must meet certain criteria to be classified as compostable. (Click here to learn more).

Most compostable films are considered compostable at an industrial level, so aren’t suitable for home composting like you might think. Whilst they’ll still break down in a home compost heap, they’d take longer than in industrial conditions.

When they do breakdown, they turn into water and CO2. Whilst the latter might seem like a negative, it often has a neutral effect on the environment. This is because the plant-based materials used to make the films absorbed CO2 in the first place. They also break down a lot quicker than biodegradable plastics.

Can biodegradable and compostable films be recycled?

Unfortunately, they’re quite hard to recycle. Biodegradable and compostable films are often considered contaminated due to the additives in the film that help them break down.

Therefore, they either can’t be recycled or are very hard to recycle, so are put in landfill. This is because most plastics are recycled into new plastic materials and the additives could compromise the new products.

The pros and cons

The benefits of biodegradable and compostable plastics are still up for debate. The important thing is that people are now having the conversation about how we can reduce our impact when it comes to packaging and the environment.

The honest answer is that there isn’t a right answer at the moment. We recommend that you choose the packaging that’s right for your business, considering your products and supply chain.

If you need help with any of your packaging needs, get in touch with us. Complete our contact form or email, our team are ready to respond.