Eco-Friendly Gifts Blog: How Do Biodegradable Cups Work?
Have you seen an advert for biodegradable cups? Perhaps you've been into a coffee shop and seen promises of compostable coffee cups, or flicked through Instagram and seen the 'magic' of biodegradability.
As is usual with these things, it's not so simple. In this blog, we're going to answer all the common questions when it comes to biodegradable and compostable cups.
We're also going to give an example of how we use biodegradable cups in our Gifts For Students Collection..
What Are Biodegradable Cups?
Our biodegradable cups are similar to normal plastic cups, except they are made from corn starch. Corn starch is a natural, renewable material that is also fully biodegradable.
The problem with plastic cups is that if they end up in the natural environment, they could take hundreds of years to break down. Our biodegradable cups are also fully compostable, and can be composted for free using our free post back scheme.
This means no waste goes to landfill, and actively stands up to single use plastic pollution.
What Does 'Biodegradable' Mean?
'Biodegradable' is a word being chucked around willy nilly right now. Be careful if you purchase something that is 'biodegradable', as it might not mean what you think it does. The definition for a 'biodegradable material is something that will:
"Break down into CO2, water and biomass with the help of microorganisms".
Let's give an example of a common biodegradable item - an apple.
If you throw an apple into a grassy patch of ground with healthy soil, it will take around one month to decompose. This is what we think of when we hear the word 'biodegradable'.
The image of perfect synchronicity with the natural environment, and zero waste remaining.
Unfortunately, this perfect picture is what lots of companies are taking advantage of. If you throw a 'biodegradable' cup onto the same grassy patch of ground, it will take far longer to break down. There are no studies as of yet to say how long this exact time frame is.
How Can You Make Sure Biodegradable Cups Break Down?
In order for our biodegradable cups to biodegrade within a reasonable time frame, they need to be composted. As our biodegradable cups are compostable as well, they will decompose in the right conditions within a year. These right conditions are found in what's called 'industrial composting' units. Let's have a look at what 'compostable' means:
A material is compostable if it:
"biodegrades in a set time frame, under set conditions, to form compost".
In industrial composting conditions, temperatures are far higher for prolonged periods compared to home composting. This enables the biodegradable cups to break down completely.
For a material to qualify as being 'industrially compostable', it must disintegrate after 12 weeks, and biodegrade fully within 6 months.
Temperatures in industrial composting plants typically vary between 50 - 70 degrees celsius. You know a material is industrially compostable when you see the logos below on the packaging.
The logo on the left is known as the 'seedling' logo, and means the material is compostable to EN13432 standards (Industrial composting standards). The logo on the right is the TUV logo, and means exactly the same thing.
So if you see one or the other, or both logos, it means the material is industrially compostable.
If a material is home compostable, it means it will biodegrade by 90% in 12 months at ambient temperature. To see if a material is home compostable, look out for the logo below, also from TUV.
Our biodegradable and compostable cups are industrially compostable. In order to access an industrial composting plant, use our free post back scheme, LFHP Zero, to ensure your used biodegradable cups decompose fully, with zero waste going to landfill.
Gifts For Students: Biodegradable Cups Case Study
Both of our Settling Into Uni Gift Sets contain biodegradable and compostable cups. Our Gifts For Students Collection is designed to make life as easy as possible when transitioning into the first year of Uni.
As well as containing all the items needed to support academic success at Uni, we have included our biodegradable and compostable cups to help ease into their new social life.
Our Gifts For Students provide all of the essentials for starting Uni, as well as some fun luxuries to help kick start the new chapter in their life.
Bioplastic Vs Plastic
As well as having the potential to biodegrade fully with no waste going to landfill, thus reducing single use plastic pollution, bioplastics have a lot of other positives over conventional fossil fuel based plastic.
The first major plus for bioplastics is the carbon footprint issue.
Overall, bioplastics have a much reduced carbon footprint than conventional fossil fuel based plastics. With the production and incineration of plastic both releasing huge amounts of emissions that add to the climate crisis, 2019 saw 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases being produced.
These numbers are mind boggling, and it's hard to imagine what they actually mean.
In terms of the direct effect plastic has on climate change, it's really not good. If the production of fossil fuels based plastic continues at its current rate, by 2050 the plastics industry will account for a minimum of 10% of the remaining carbon budget.
One of the main reasons why bioplastics have a smaller carbon footprint than fossil fuel based plastics, is how plants deal with CO2.
Instead of releasing CO2, plants actually take it in instead. This process of sequestering CO2 is part of photosynthesis, and it's the reason why maintaining trees and reducing deforestation is so important in the battle against climate change.
Throughout the entire life cycle of a bio based plastic, CO2 will remain in the bioplastic material. This means that until the bioplastic is composted, or disposed of, the bioplastic material will hold all the CO2 it took it when the original source materials were growing.
According to EU bioplastics, "substituting the annual global demand for fossil-based polyethylene (PE) with bio-based PE would safe more than 42 million tonnes of CO2. This equals the CO2 emissions of 10 million flights around the world per year."
The production of fossil fuel based plastic is an extremely carbon intensive process. With man made disasters on oil extraction sites, as well as secondary impacts on the local area surrounding the oil extraction site, crude oil extraction is a dangerous and damaging process.
Fracking is the process of extracting crude oil and gas from shale rock. Fracking, or Hydraulic Fracturing, involves injecting a mix of sand, water and other chemicals at high pressure into the shale rock.
This allows the sought after gas to flow out to the head of the well.
Fracking is highly controversial, and for good reason. With multiple cases of earthquakes and sinkholes being linked heavily to fracking, the damage caused by the process can be immediate to the surrounding areas.
In 2011, two earthquakes were recorded following testing for a potential fracking site.
Cuadrilla, the company carrying out the testing, immediately stopped working on the tests. The Blackpool based fracking site resulted in earthquakes recorded as 1.5 and and 2.2 on the Richter scale.
A study carried out focusing on the incidents, found that it was "highly probable" the earthquakes were caused by the shale gas test drilling.
To put the 1.5 and 2.2 magnitude earthquakes into scale, anything above a 0.5 on the Richter scale should stop any fracking process immediately.
As well as all the aforementioned reasons as to why we prefer bioplastic over fossil fuel based plastic, a whole different category stands out: plastic pollution.
Plastic pollution is the result of plastic not being disposed of properly, which means it ends up in the natural environment.
In particular, the awareness for marine plastic debris has increased hugely over the last few years. This is probably down to David Attenborough and the latest season of the Blue Planet series, which was aired in 2017.
Marine plastic pollution poses particular dangers to wildlife that mistake pieces of plastic for food. Once the piece of plastic has been ingested by the creature who mistook it for food, it can be detrimental to their health.
A well known example of a marine victim to plastic pollution, the Sea Turtle, is affected in two main ways by plastic pollution.
If they ingest plastic, it has the potential to block their intestines. This results in malnutrition from the turtles thinking they are full of food, when in fact they are just full of plastic. This leads to, in effect, the turtles starving to death without them knowing it.
The second major health problem turtles face from ingesting plastic is that plastic can pierce the wall of the intestine, which causes internal bleeding. This, again, can lead to death.
We're not going to say much else about the effects of plastic pollution in this blog, as there is so much accessible information widely available on the internet, as well as our other blogs we have written on the subject.
Thinking Of Going Biodegradable?
In summary, we love biodegradable cups. We think they are the answer for plastic pollution resulting from single use plastic cups.
On top of this, we firmly believe that biodegradable products produced from renewable resources are the future, and should be the present. Hopefully over the course of this blog, you now know that as well as being biodegradable, cups should be compostable as well.
This allows a controlled end of life process via industrial composting, which can be accessed via our free post back scheme for compostable goods.
Our range of sustainable gifts is growing all the time, but our key values will always remain at the forefront of each gift.
When developing each sustainable gift, we ensure that they contain no single use plastic in product and packaging.
If you would like to read more about the changing world of sustainability with plastic free alternatives, feel free to subscribe to our email list at the bottom of the page.