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Eco-Friendly Gifts Blog: Are Biodegradable Ponchos Really Biodegradable?
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Eco-Friendly Gifts Blog: Are Biodegradable Ponchos Really Biodegradable?

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We are moving into a new world with the green revolution. With the damage that plastic pollution is causing on a global scale, comes the evidence that we need solutions quickly.

One of these potential solutions is to use biodegradable materials produced from renewable resources.

This differs to conventional plastic, which is formed from crude oil and non renewable resources. In this blog, we are going to look at one item in particular that can be made from conventional plastic, as well as biodegradable plastic - the Poncho.

What Are Normal Ponchos Made From? 

First of all, let's define what 'normal' is. Conventional plastic is produced from crude oil. This is a non renewable resource, that can be extracted in a few different ways. These methods typically all start by drilling into the ground, and locating exactly where the oil can be found.

A common conventional plastic produced from crude oil is Polyethylene, or PE. PE is a fossil fuel based, non biodegradable plastic.

This combination is what we typically think of when we hear the word 'plastic'.

And it's also where a lot of the problems associated with conventional plastic come from. As it is fossil fuel based, it is contributing to the climate crisis, as well as damaging the environment local to the extraction site. 

Because PE is non biodegradable, it contributes to the plastic pollution we see around the world. Most coverage is on the effects of plastic pollution in the marine environment, where it is killing wildlife who mistake plastic for food.

What Are Biodegradable Ponchos Made From?

To make sure we are as accurate as possible, we are going to be using our biodegradable ponchos. Our ponchos are made from PLA, which is a renewable resource produced from cornstarch.

As well as being biodegradable, our ponchos are also fully compostable. This means they can be composted with zero waste going to landfill, and actively stands up against single use plastic pollution.

Just use our free post back scheme, LFHP Zero, and we guarantee all your used compostable waste from any of our gift sets will be fully composted.

To clarify, let's talk about what the definition of 'biodegradable' is.

If something is biodegradable, it : "Breaks down into CO2, water and biomass with the help of microorganisms".

LFHP Zero is an important part of the product itself. Just because an item is biodegradable, does not mean it will magically disappear if it is left on the ground.

It could take years for a biodegradable poncho to break down, and potentially could still cause harm to wildlife while it's in the natural environment. To get the full benefits of a biodegradable poncho, it needs to be compostable as well. 

Why Is LFHP Zero So Important?

When you send your used compostable goods back to us using LFHP Zero, we sort it into different items. We then pass the used compostable waste onto our industrial composting partners, who fully compost the waste.

To understand why this process is important, we need to understand that there are two types of composting: Industrial and Home. 

Compostable means a material: "biodegrades in a set time frame, under set conditions, to form compost

Home composting is the process that happens in the compost bin in your back garden, or allotment.

Temperatures are fairly moderate, with an average of 20-30 degrees celsius. The main content is biomass, such as fruit, veg and garden cuttings.

If you were to put your used biodegradable poncho into a home compost bin, it would take a long time to break down.

Because composting has a time limit (we'll get onto that in a minute), we can't call it home compostable. We haven't tested how long it would take for the biodegradable poncho to break down in a home compost setting, and as far as we know, neither has anyone else. If you want to be the first, be our guest

So if our biodegradable ponchos aren't home compostable, what are they?

They are what's called 'industrially compostable'. This means they require specific conditions to break down to form compost.

These conditions include higher temperatures for prolonged periods. As we mentioned earlier, to legally allow an item to be called compostable, there is a set time limit for the item to biodegrade. For industrial composting, an item should biodegrade fully within 6 months in an industrial composting unit. 

For home composting, the item should fully biodegrade within 6 months in a home compost setting.

We've put an infographic together to show the main differences between home composting and industrial composting. 

home composting vs industrial composting

In order to tell which type of composting the item needs, there are fortunately a few certifications and logos to help.

As you can see from the infographic above, there are two main logos for industrial composting. They are the 'Seedling' and the 'OK Compost Industrial' logos.

If you see either of these items on a package, it means they are industrially compostable to EN13432 standards. EN13432 is the most recognised and widely accepted standard for what an item has to be if it is to be considered industrially compostable.

For home composting, there is one main logo. The 'OK Compost Home' signifies that the item will biodegrade fully in your home compost bin.

To get the first green myth out of the way, just because something is made from renewable resources such as cornstarch does not make it biodegradable. This also works the other way round, so if a material is biodegradable it does not mean it's made from renewable resources.

Biodegradable plastics chart

Let's take a look at a few examples to explain. 

The first group, and most commonly produced today is conventional plastic. This is plastic that is manufactured from fossil fuels, as well as not being able to biodegrade. As a result, we have to face the plastic pollution crisis. Conventional plastics include PE (Polyethylene), PP (Polypropylene) and PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate). 

The next group is also manufactured from fossil fuels, but these plastics can biodegrade. We're not sure why they are called bioplastics in the graph, and we can only assume it's a mistake. These plastics include PBAT (the full name is horrendous so we won't include it), and PCL (Polycaprolactone).

Interestingly, when PCL is combined with PLA, the results show the material formed is home compostable. This shows that fossil fuel based plastics can be fully composted when treated in with the correct conditions.

After fossil fuel based biodegradable plastics is the group in the top left of the grid.

Biobased non biodegradable plastics are formed from renewable resources, but aren't able to biodegrade. This group solves the problem of sustainable production, but end of life disposal is still a huge issue. Biobased Polyethylene, biobased Polyethylene Terephthalate and biobased Polyamide all fit into this category. Because they are formed from biomass, these plastics are bioplastics. 

Onto the last group, and our favourite!

Biobased biodegradable plastics.

This group of bioplastic has all the characteristics that can solve the two biggest problems arising from conventional plastic.

They are formed from biomass, which means the production process is fully sustainable. As well, they can fully biodegrade.

This solves the problem of single use plastic pollution when they are composted under the right conditions.

Polylactic acid, PHA (again, the name is upsettingly long so we won't include it) and PBS are all biodegradable and compostable. However, the only one we know to be compostable to EN13432 standards is PLA, which is the material our ponchos are made from. This may well change soon, as bioplastic research is a very fast moving field.

What's Wrong With Conventional Plastic?

The reasons for this new area of research, into alternatives to conventional plastic, are numerous. We've picked out a few crucial points, focusing in on plastic pollution, as to why we need to find long term solutions to non biodegradable fossil fuel based plastics.

Plastic Pollution

You've probably heard the term mentioned a lot, and it's a huge problem on a global scale.

Plastic pollution is the result of plastic not being disposed of properly, meaning it ends up in our natural environment. Arguably the biggest effect of the crisis is on the marine environment; in our rivers, seas and oceans.

Wildlife mistake plastic for food. This has recently been studied, and the results are surprising. The reason as to why wildlife such as turtles and seabirds eat plastic is because of how they smell. 

Algae, a varied group of organisms found in high numbers in marine environments, are consumed by krill. As algae breaks down in the ocean, it releases a smelly sulfur oder, known as dimethyl sulfide.

DMS emission signifies an abundance of algae, which means there will be an abundance of krill also, as krill consumes algae. Seabirds and other larger predators who consume krill have learned that this smell will lead them to krill. 

Unfortunately, plastic debris floating in the ocean is an excellent breeding space for algae. This means that marine predators who feed on krill, consume the floating plastic instead.

Once they have ingested the plastic, it can be lethal. Blocking airways results in suffocation. If the plastic makes its way to the intestine, it can either pierce the intestinal wall which leads to internal bleeding, or it can stay trapped in the gut. If it stays trapped, it could potentially lead to inadvertent starvation.

This is because the animal thinks that it's full, but in reality it is slowly starving to death without knowing it. 

As a result of the detrimental effect that plastic pollution has on marine wildlife, many deaths are recorded every year.

One in five turtles die as a result of eating a single piece of plastic. If a turtle consumes at least 14 pieces of plastic debris, it has a 50% chance of dying. 

We Need Solutions

The amount of conventional plastic being produced every year is actually going to increase, by 40% over the next decade.

We need scalable, effective and economically viable methods to reduce the amount of non biodegradable plastic being produced.

We think using fully biodegradable bioplastics produced from renewable resources are our best chance of dealing with the plastic pollution crisis, as well as the climate crisis.

Combined with an easy to use, and easy to understand method of disposal, such as home composting and industrial composting, makes the rise of biodegradable bioplastics not only inevitable, but necessary as well. 

Eco-Friendly Gifts

Our eco festival survival kits are prime examples of how our range of eco-friendly gifts are replacing gifts that don't take the environment into account.

The biodegradable ponchos talked about in this blog show that eco-friendly gifts provide amazing alternatives to traditional gifts. 

If you would like to read more about the world of biodegradability, feel free to subscribe to our email list at the bottom of the page.