Eco jargon – here’s what it all means

Eco-friendly packaging products. Where to begin?! What does it mean if the plastic is PET, PP or PLA? What products really are recyclable? Or compostable vs degradable vs biodegradable – what’s the difference? So much to know!!

Our team have done the homework so you don’t have to and we’re already helping loads of our customers navigate eco product terminologies. Here we’ll decipher a few product materials and let you know their eco credentials.

PET (POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE)

Best known as the clear plastic used for water and soda bottle containers, PET is a petroleum-based product that is clear, lightweight, flexible and 100% recyclable. It is used in packaging for clear products such as cups, containers and bowls. Examples include clear cold drink cups, sandwich wedges, bakery containers (such as a hinged-lid muffin pack) and salad bowls (such as a flat or domed-lid shobowl for salads).

Derived from a sustainable source: No.

Eco credentials: Recyclable.

Plastic identification code: 1.

PET is readily recyclable in curb-side collections in Australia.

PP (POLYPROPYLENE)

Polypropylene is a flexible but strong petroleum-based plastic commonly used to make plastic containers. It is stiffer than PET and has a high resistance to cracking, acids and organic solvents. Examples of PP products include Chinese takeaway containers, sauce containers, noodle bowls and tamper evident containers. PP products can either be opaque or translucent, however they can’t be made clear like PET.

Derived from a sustainable source: No.

Eco credentials: Recyclable.

Plastic identification code: 5

PP is recyclable in most curb-side collections in Australia. Check with your local council whether they recycle it.

PLA (POLYLACTIC ACID)

PLA is plant-based plastic made from fermented plant starch (usually corn) and is quickly becoming a popular alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics. PLA products are commercial composting compatible – this means that if sent to a commercial composting facility, they can be broken down and turned into nutrient-rich compost.

Some examples include clear Biocup cold cups and clear Biobowls (including ice cream/deli cups and salad bowls) and BioPak’s PLA cutlery range.

Derived from a sustainable source: Yes.

Eco credentials: Commercially compostable

Commercially compostable PLA products can be disposed of in dedicated commercial compost or general waste bins. (More about this in the Compostable section below).

DEGRADABLE

The word “degradable” means that something breaks down. However, that doesn’t mean it disappears. Degradable plastic bags have a chemical added to them that means they break down quickly into small particles, however the particles remain in the earth (or worse – the ocean) and create a much bigger problem in the environment as invisible litter. The most popular product included in this category are degradable plastic bags.

Derived from a sustainable source: No.

Eco credentials: General waste stream. Degradable products can only go into general waste collection bins.

BIODEGRADABLE

This means that something will eventually degrade from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. So, a biodegradable plastic bag is likely to be made from plant-based plastics which will disappear completely (either eventually in landfill or quickly if they are commercially composted). Some examples of these products include sugarcane/biocane plates, bowls and platters, pine boats and cups, wooden cutlery, and products made from paper or paper board that is not lined with a thin layer of plastic e.g. chip cups, food trays, pizza boxes, napkins, burger clams, snack packs and carry boxes.

Derived from a sustainable source: Yes.

Eco credentials: Biodegradable products can be disposed of in home compost, commercial compost or general waste bins.

COMPOSTABLE

Compostable products are biodegradable materials that break down quickly under certain conditions. There are two types of compost systems – commercial and home. Many bioplastic (PLA) products are designed to be compostable. However, they can’t be composted in home systems, they can only break down in the tightly controlled conditions of commercial systems.

A home compost system operates at lower temperatures than industrial facilities and conditions are more variable and less managed. A PLA product is unlikely to break down in a home system.

The difference between the two systems makes compostable packaging slightly more complex for consumers to understand, however, if disposed of properly, it is the most eco-friendly choice for packaging.

Commercial composting services are in their fledgling stages in Australia, however they do exist and they’re excellent. BioPak runs a service in most Australian and New Zealand capital cities. Find out more here: https://www.biopak.com.au/compost-service

Derived from a sustainable source: Yes.

Eco credentials: Commercially compostable or home compostable

Compostable products can be disposed of in the general waste stream or in home or commercial compost systems depending on their credentials.

So, there’s a brief deciphering of the eco credentials attached to some of the commonly-used products in the food packaging industry. Please contact our friendly team if you’d like more information.