Q: Everyone is saying we should toss #7 plastics, but plant-based plastic is also labelled #7. Do I toss that, too?
A: Playing plastics by numbers can be one very confusing game. Toronto, for instance, used to recycle pretty much all #1 and #2 plastics. Then it came out and said, “Well, actually, forget the numbers. We won’t take any food-?carrying #1 plastic, like those clear containers that hold organic spinach or eggs, but we will take #5 tubs that dish out Ben and Jerry’s.”
It’s all very unsettling for greenies who like to do their part but just can’t keep track.
We all tend to look for easy cues. So while people try to remember which plastic leaches, the media just tell us stay away from #7. Truth is, #7 is a catch?-all category.
Sure, naughty polycarbonates are #7, but the same number also goes on any plastic that doesn’t fall under the other six categories. All very befuddling now that #7 is being called the new 666.
On the list of bisphenol-A-?free #7s are those 100 per cent plant-?based plastics like PLA and other biodegradable polymers. No, there’s no need to toss them with your Nalgene, but that doesn’t mean these plastics are stress-free. If we’re talking NatureWorks’ PLA plastics, you’ve got to consider the baggage that comes with a Dow Cargill product made with genetically tinkered corn.
Not to mention the worldly woes associated with using a corn-?based product during a food crisis.
Even tossing the stuff gets tricky. The company says you can recycle or compost it, but don’t tell that to the city, which would love to slap anyone who puts biodegradable plastics in the recycling bin (where they’ll seriously mess with regular recyclable plastics).
The city’s also smack in the middle of informing companies that bio-?plastic pushers shouldn’t confuse the public about their plastics’ degrading potential.
Biodegradable plastics sent to the green bin don’t actually stay in the city’s industrial composters, since plastics are floated to the top by a hydropulper at the outset. They’re sent to landfills designed to prevent anything from breaking down and creating dangerous leachate. Waste officials concede there’s a chance those certified compostable green bin bags like Biosak might be broken down enough to sneak past the hydropulper and get ’posted. No guarantees, though.
So should you trash all #7s in a panic? Not necessarily, but keep in mind that no matter what advertisers say, your biodegradable plastics will end up in landfill one way or another.
However, if it’s certified compostable and suitable for backyard composters, and you own a backyard composter, you can toss it in peace.
Q: I was given an oxo-degradable plastic bag. What is this?
A: Cooler stores looking for green cred are now shoving DVDs and groceries in alternative plastic bags. HMV is the most recent shop I spotted handing out oxo-?degradable sacks.
So what are they? Take a regular petroleum-?based plastic and throw in some additives that help it break down when exposed to air, UV light and heat (a rare mix in landfill; biodegradable plastic only needs naturally occurring bacteria to break down).
Though some claim it disintegrates in months, others admit it’ll take about five years. Tests confirm the rate of decay is pretty inconsistent, and one study by California State U for Zero Waste California revealed that even after sitting 120 days in municipal composters, the “eco-?safe oxo-?degradable” as well as “oxo-?biodegradable” plastic bags and UV-?degradable plastic bags had yet to show any sign of breaking down.
That’s why HMV really pisses me off when, on the side of its bags, it compares its plastic sacks to a leaf. Leaf, my ass. Does that mean I should toss it by the road and watch it blow in the wind?
Will these bags break down in less time than the decades/centuries needed to dissolve a regular petroleum-based bag? Likely so, but don’t for one minute let them tell you these are better than reusable bags or no bag at all.
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