Last month I wrote a blog on how companies are using technology to green their products. In that blog, I was raving about the green virtues of “100% compostable packaging.” The blog generated some interest. However, one of the commenters, Alexa, posed some interesting questions regarding the ability of this packaging to actually decompose if it ended up in a landfill instead of a composter. “Without the regular turning of soil and a heated environment that composting provides, will it break down?”
Well, I didn’t have the answer to her question. So I contacted my friends in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. I was surprised to find out that the fact that a product is classified as “biodegradable or compostable” doesn’t make it 100% green. These so-called compostable or biodegradable products “are only good for the environment when composted” emphasized my colleagues. By sending these materials to a landfill, they will not automatically breakdown. The right conditions have to exist for them to decompose. In fact, the very nature of landfills prevents the vast majority of compostable products from decomposing. The reality is that these landfills are virtually “dry tombs” and they are designed specifically to protect the materials deposited in them from coming in contact with air, water, ground water and sunlight. If these compostable products start to break down and decompose in a landfill, they will remain trapped in place possibly producing methane gas and leachate. They will not magically disappear.
So, for those individuals interested in making these compostable materials live up to their green name, I would recommend visiting the following websites on reducing and recycling organic waste and composting for additional ways to make them truly green.
So, while green packaging still has benefits, the best thing to do for the environment is to not create the waste in the first place. In spite of our best efforts, when waste is created, the next best options for our finances and the environment will be to reuse it, recycle it or compost it! Have a green day.
About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.