Compostable or Biodegradable? Why It Matters

Grist's Rachel Cernasky breaks down the differences between compostable and biodegradable food packaging -- and what labels are simply misleading. She writes:

Like the natural foods market, where highly processed snacks with genetically modified ingredients can be called “natural,” all the eco-marketing for food packaging is causing some confusion. There are cups made from corn, plates made from sugarcane, biodegradable dog poop bags — but “bioplastics,” as these are generally known, are not always truly compostable.

She explains the nuances that many are still trying to parse: so-called bioplastics made from plant matter may not be biodegradable. Plant-based plastics are not necessarily compostable. And plant-based plastics may still raise issues when it comes to conventional recycling. Bioplastics often require specialized facilities to be recycled, further complicating the widespread use of these supposedly more eco-friendly plastics.

The biggest issue is perhaps labeling. California is the first state trying to regulate packaging labels with terms like "compostable" and "biodregradable," but even state's efforts are minimal and rare. Until the general public understands the complexity of these issues, it will be difficult to push for radical labeling and packaging changes.

Read Cernasky's full bioplastics break down -- pun intended -- on Grist.org. 

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