Currently, the bans on plastic bags vary by city and county in the state of California. There is a referendum on the 2016 ballot that would overturn the statewide ban on single-use plastic carryout bags. If the referendum fails, the bag ban will go into effect for all of California. Please see the links below to some articles on this subject that appeared in Plastics News on November 9, 2015.
Any environmental claims made about a product are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC sets standards for truth-in-advertising that should be followed by any company making assertions about the environmental impact of a product. The Green Guide is a great resource for you.
Products that are labeled as ‘compostable’ should pass through an industrial composting facility to fully degrade into organic matter. If your city has a composting facility, place these products in your compost collection bins for disposal. Compostable products will typically degrade in 30-120 days in an industrial composter, depending on the product size and material used.
If your city doesn’t provide industrial composting, you can dispose of compostable products in your backyard or home composter, but they will take longer to degrade.
If you do not have access to a compost facility or a home composter, dispose of the compostable product in your regular garbage container. This option should be your last resort as waste does not easily biodegrade in landfills. Compostables are not recyclable and will contaminate the recycling process.
Many simple paper and plastic products are marked with the universal recycling symbol. Many complex electrical products (mobile phones, computers, printers, etc.) contain parts and materials which can be recycled by disassembling the products. Other products such as batteries, paints and fertilizers can be specially processed to reduce the environmental impact of their disposal.
Recyclable products can be collected and reprocessed often times to produce new items. Commonplace recyclable materials are: paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum, and electronic waste. Recycling is very important in diverting waste from landfills.
Compostable materials are similar to biodegradable materials, as they are both intended to return to the earth safely. However, compostable materials go one step further by providing the earth with nutrients once the material has completely broken down. These materials are added to compost piles, which are designated sites with specific conditions dependent on wind, sunlight, drainage and other factors. While biodegradable materials are designed to break down within landfills, compostable materials require special composting conditions. Compostable materials include starch-based packing peanuts, cutlery and dinnerware made from organic materials, such as palm leaves. Starch based products can be dissolved in water and added to composts for safe disposal.
Biodegradable signifies that the materials have the capacity to break down and return to nature. In order for packaging products or materials to qualify as biodegradable, they must completely break down and decompose into natural elements within a short time after disposal – typically a year or less. Materials that are biodegradable include corrugated cardboard and even some plastics. Most plastics, however, are not biodegradable – meaning they cannot break down easily after disposal and can remain on the planet as waste for decades.
Many packaging products assert to have environmentally-friendly benefits such as “biodegradable” and “compostable” materials. There is often a lot of misinformation about what these terms mean, and the difference between them? To fully understand the impacts that packaging materials have on the environment, is it important to educate yourself on the terms used to define and sell these materials.