Thanks to hundreds of documentaries and scientific studies, many people are starting to realize the environment is in trouble. Global warming, acid rain, smog, the extinction of many animals and plants and lack of natural resources are manmade problems. Because of this, many consumers and business owners are interested in protecting the environment. Although there has been some agreement about what is bad for the environment (unnecessary waste and burning of fossils fuels for example), there are still heated debates raging on about how eco friendly some materials are. Include in this debate is the use of biodegradable and degradable packaging.
Before determining the similarities and differences between biodegradable and degradable packaging, we should first learn what degradation is. Simply put, degradation is a process that occurs when larger molecules are broken down into smaller ones. Degradation can be aided by oxygen, and is caused by heat, sunlight or extreme mechanical pressure. The problem is some materials like certain plastics or Styrofoam products take years to fully degrade when discarded. This can cause pollution in waterways or be hazardous to animals that ingest or are trapped in these packaging materials. This is not very eco friendly. Now that you know and understand what degradation is, it is time to figure out which packaging is better suited for the environment.
Biodegradable packaging such as paper and certain plastics are broken down into carbon dioxide and water by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. These elements can be turned into nutrients for plants and soil. Although this is good for the environment, biodegradable materials are often dumped in environments lacking oxygen. This creates the greenhouse gas methane. In addition, some biodegradable wastes contain toxins. Degradable packaging such as plastics is broken down by chemical reactions instead of microorganisms. Although these materials can be broken down into carbon dioxide, water and other nutrients in oxygen depleted environments, they still are not eco friendly. This is because they leave tiny fragments behind. These fragments can cause damage to plant and animal life.
Although biodegradable and degradable packaging both have their benefits and drawbacks, it would seem that biodegradable packing is more eco friendly. To make sure you are purchasing authentic biodegradable packaging materials, make sure they are 100 percent compostable. Also, be sure the packaging does not contain materials such as polyethylene. Finally, beware of oxo degradable materials because they are not fully compostable. It may be a small step, but if enough people start using biodegradable materials, the earth will be a cleaner and healthier place.