Tuesday, 12 October 2010

This Post is 100% Biodegradable

I've been searching the internet for hours, and I still don't know what the term "biodegradable" really means. There is no legal definition and no laws or governing bodies to control the use of the term (yikes!). Needless to say, the term has been increasingly appearing on soaps, coffee cups, paints and even yoga mats (I have a biodegradable yoga mat, by the way, whatever that means ...)

Most people would agree that biodegradable material should break down into simpler organic components such as water, carbon dioxide and other organic matter. However, using that definition, even rubber tires would be considered biodegradable! Everything decomposes over time, the question is how long will the decomposition take, and what conditions might effect the breakdown of matter. For instance, a disposable spoon made out of corn might be labelled "biodegradable" because it breaks down faster than a conventional plastic spoon. But if that spoon is buried in a landfill and deprived of sunlight, water and air (the main prerequisites for decomposition) it might take significantly longer to decompose. Are you beginning to see how tricky this word is?

No one seems to have a definitive answer, including me. Each week I am seeing more and more products (especially soap) with "biodegradable" tacked onto the label. The validity of these claims are yet to be verified, but I suspect the majority of them are false and derived from profit seeking companies trying to cash in on the newest and hottest trend.

Don't be fooled into thinking that products labelled "biodegradable" are better for the environment, more natural or safer to use. Biodegradable is something completely different from organic; please don't confuse the two. Certified organic products will have the organic certifier's logo on the label (see my previous post about identifying organic products).

So the question still remains, at least for me, what to make of this "biodegradable" word. Simply seeing the term on a product definitely won't influence me to purchase it, or make me feel better about buying a tea in a "100% biodegradable" cup.

UPDATE: Looks like the FTC in the US is working on rectifying this issue right now. Ahem, Canada .... hope you're working on it too!


Mary Mo said...

Totally agree! I don't trust these large corporations that just throw the word biodegradable on everything and then think they are being ethically responsible. Hopefully a third party organization can monitor this (similar to the system for organic). Great post.

Angel said...

Yes, that's exactly what is needed ... a third unbiased organization to create and enforce laws on using eco terms like biodegradable, all natural, no preservatives, etc ...

coolblogger said...

Good write-up. Hope everything spares a min and think abt our responsibility we have to give our younger generation better environment.

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