THE LANGUAGE OF PLASTIC
Plastic. A simple word that should be simple to explain. But it isn’t. We need to cut through this LINGUISTIC CONFUSION with STRAIGHT-TALK.
There are many kinds of plastic and they are all surrounded by a huge amount of misinformation, greenwashing and nuance. We want to increase the use of materials that Nature can handle and eliminate the use of those Nature can’t. We need to cut through this linguistic confusion with straight-talk. So we are going to use the following words to describe the different kinds of plastic and non-plastic materials
Conventional plastic is what we see everywhere - PET, PS, PVC, PP, PE etc. The vast majority is derived from unsustainable fossil fuel sources, although conventional plastic can now also be manufactured from plants to produce a product with the same chemical structure, and critically, the same indestructible qualities. Plant-derived conventional plastic is sometimes called “bio-plastic” or “drop in bio-plastic” - a perfect example of the confusing language used to describe plastic. Similarly ‘oxo-biodegradable’ plastics may sounds good but are now known to simply degrade down to tiny plastic fragments. For absolute clarity, we call all three of these kind of plastics Conventional Plastic as they all take hundreds of years to break down into micro-plastics and nano-plastics that are damaging our marine life and polluting our planet at an unprecedented rate.
Chemically the same as the equivalent conventional fossil fuel plastic; how it’s used, how (if it isn’t managed) it degrades down to micro-plastics; damaging to environment, lasts forever. The only difference is that this type of Bio-Plastic is derived from plants like sugar cane so it is sustainable. They are called ‘drop in’ because they so easily replace fossil fuel plastic. We need to be careful not to be misled here. These sustainable plastics are made from ethanol that is identical in all other ways to fossil fuel plastic. Until 100% of these Bio-Plastics are recycled in a closed loop – which is so far in our possible future – we do not support their use for food and drink packaging.
APP call all the materials in the following two groups
Bio-materials are the future. Exciting new and old materials include wood pulp, plant cellulose, food waste, grass, algae, and mushrooms. These materials can be made into trays, punnets and clear, flexible films that look and behave like conventional plastic, but with two key differences: At the start of their lives, these materials can be sustainably sourced ideally in full or in part. At the end of their lives, they can be composted into bio-mass to regenerate depleted farming soils. We support all compostables that comply with the necessary compliance ie EN 13432 or OK Home Compostable.
Metal, paper, carton board and glass are also plastic free. Aluminium, tin and glass can be recycled in an infinite loop. Paper, sustainably sourced through FSC™ or PEFC™ certification, can also be recycled and is one of the most all around versatile packaging materials. Steel and tin plate cans are of course free of plastic, but often have plastic linings. Similarly work is still needed to remove hidden plastic in products like Tetrapak.
Is BIODEGRADABLE the same as COMPOSTABLE?
APP avoids using the word biodegradable because everything eventually biodegrades, but not necessarily into harmless matter and very often over very long time periods. Plastic is a good example. It biodegrades in our oceans into tiny, microscopic pieces creating a toxic plastic soup and a plastic bottle takes hundreds of years to break down. Biodegradable sounds misleadingly positive - APP would prefer to talk about compostable.
Imagine packaging that is fully compostable at the end of its life, so it gives something useful back to Nature rather than something harmful. The skin around an orange protects the fruit until we eat it, and then fully composts. This should be our goal – wrap perishable food in perishable packaging. The opposite of plastic. We need to start a serious conversation about our waste management systems including industrial composting as obviously composting vast quantities of packaging at home is not practical.