FAQs about End of Life Process
In order to determine the best means of disposal of a given product, it is important to know whether it is degradable, biodegradable, or compostable.
What is meant by degradable?
What is biodegradable?
What causes the process of bio-degradation to begin?
What is meant by compostable?
Compostable implies biodegradable, but what are the extra requirements?
What standards are there which certify biodegradable and compostable?
Biodegradability is certified by The International Standards Organization (ISO) 14855, which requires 60% bio-degradation in 180 days, though makes no stipulations regarding disintegration or toxins remaining.
So what does happen to solid waste (also known as garbage, trash or rubbish) which is put into landfill? Well, the answer is (pretty much) nothing.
In fact, landfill sites are designed in such a way as stop degradation, in order to prevent pollutants entering the environment. Landfills are typically sited where the ground is naturally impermeable (for example where the soil is clay-rich) and then lined with plastic or clay to prevent leach-ate (potentially toxic landfill 'juice') seeping into groundwater.
Once full, landfills are sealed with a further layer of clay or soil, creating a relatively oxygen-free, dry environment. These are almost exactly the opposite of the conditions required for composting.
Landfill is a natural solution for dealing with certain types of waste, such as inert waste (e.g. construction debris), composite items which cannot easily be recycled (e.g. clothing and plastic-coated paper cartons), and some domestic wastes (e.g. light bulbs and medication). However, more than two thirds of solid waste consists of organic matter which could be disposed of in a multitude of other ways. Given that landfill sites the world over are filling up, and in some regions (for example North East USA) finding suitable sites is becoming problematic, reducing the volume of waste which is disposed of in landfill is essential.
Prior to use, most modern landfill sites are lined with a non-porous layer, such as plastic or clay. Once full they are covered over with tonnes of soil, which creates a compressed and largely sealed environment. This is by no means ideal for bio-degradation, which requires moisture, heat and micro-organisms to occur.
Large-scale commercial composting can be used to dramatically reduce landfill. Currently, the major barrier is economic, and takes the form of the cost of separating compostable from non-compostable waste. However, by replacing traditional food packaging, kitchenware, and utensils with biodegradable alternatives, both content and packing could be composted together.
In addition, as is happening in some parts of the world, households and businesses need to take responsibility for separating waste and minimizing the environmental impact of their endeavors.
Please do not be dispirited if this has been a reality check on the relation between landfill and bio-degradation! A fresh approach to dealing with waste is long overdue, and using our products will play a part in facilitating a reduction in the amount of plastic which goes into landfill, and an increase in the amount of organic matter which is recycled.