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Degradable versus biodegradable

You may have noticed that Albany Bakeries has started labelling their plastic packaging as being biodegradable. As consumers, we are being duped because their packaging is made from petroleum-based plastic which is degradable rather than biodegradable. It is made from a plastic manufactured by Symphony Environmental Technologies, a UK-based company who recently clinched a deal to supply plastic packaging to Albany Bakeries, a subsidiary of Tiger Foods. Symphony claims that their d2w oxo-biodegradable additive makes plastic degrade in less than six months leaving no fragments or harmful residues. Tiger packaging development manager for grains, cereals, milling and baking Meghan Draddy said: “Tiger Brands has become South Africa’s first national food company to tackle the litter and plastic-waste pollution unavoidably resulting from bakery operations. Up to 3,000 tonnes of potential litter and waste per year will now degrade and then biodegrade, within a short timescale.” However, Symphony’s plastic has no biodegradable certification and the fact that they add the patented, chemical compound d2w means that it is chemo-degradable rather than bio-degradable.

So what is the difference between degradable and biodegradable plastics?

Firstly, degradable plastics are still made from ordinary petroleum-based granules, called nurdles. These raw plastic pellets that are commonly found in our oceans do not contain any additives which helps break down the plastic. While they do break down into smaller particles, chemical residues eventually show up in the food chain and our bodies. The bottom line is that any plastic that is petroleum-based will contribute to the pollution of our environment and has a harmful effect on human and animal health. Secondly, Symphony claims that they add “metal salts” such as manganese, iron, cobalt and nickel to the plastic to stimulate the degrading process. This means that these kinds of plastics will leave behind high concentrations of metals such as nickel in landfills which could potentially be toxic to us in the long-term.

Only packaging that can be broken down by the action of living organisms into harmless substances and stable compounds such as carbon dioxide and water is biodegradable.

EU standards for compostable and biodegradable packaging was introduced and adopted by all European states (equivalent standards exist in the USA, Canada, India and Australia). These standards ensure that a product is biodegradable, compostable and is safe. In order to gain certification, the final packaging product must be fully tested and approved. To date, degradable plastics have not met the requirements for biodegradable certification. By labelling their packaging as ‘biodegradable’, Albany Bakeries are, essentially, lying to the consumer.

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