Biodegradable plastic packaging and bags
Biodegradable plastic products and bags cause problems for municipal recycling systems
Currently, the City of Toronto and the majority of other municipalities across Ontario do not want biodegradable plastic packaging, including biodegradable plastic bags, in their recycling or organics programs for the following key reasons:
- Biodegradable plastics can ruin recycling markets. The plastics we recycle are used to manufacture new products such as landscape edging, decking and automotive parts. These products are manufactured to be durable and to not break down over time. The presence of biodegradable plastics puts the durability of these products with recycled plastic content in peril. The markets which buy waste plastic from municipal Blue Bin programs refuse to buy any material which may contain any bio-plastics.
- It is crucial that the integrity of our plastic recycling contracts remain intact. The City generates over $20 Million per year from the sale of recyclables to help offset the cost of collecting recyclables. Bio plastics put a portion of this revenue at risk.
- There is a risk of biodegradable plastic packaging or products contaminating the Green Bin organics collection program where one brand in a class of products (e.g. snack food bags) introduces a biodegradable bag, regardless of the processing system in place.
- The current funding system for municipal ‘Blue Box’ recycling programs requires the producers of recyclable products to pay 50% of cost to recycle their material in our municipal system. However, packaging material accepted in Green Bin organic program is not eligible for this funding. The City bears 100% of the cost of this program.
- Biodegradable plastics do not compost well in Toronto’s or other municipalities’ systems, regardless of whether the processing uses an anaerobic (without air) or aerobic (with air) system. Again, there is the risk of degrading the expected quality of the fine finished compost produced as a beneficial end-use product.
Position Paper (PDF) from the Regional Public Works Commissioners of Ontario (RPWCO) regarding Biodegradable Plastic Products and Packaging.
What does 'degradable' or 'bio-plastics' mean?
There are many types of products that call themselves 'degradable.' They may be degradable in the presence of certain components, moisture, heat, oxygen - and are made to degrade in a certain time period. This time period and conditions may not match the actual conditions in a processing facility.
Also, some 'degradable' plastics just break down into smaller 'plastic' particles, while some break down into harmless carbon and water components.