Biodegradation is nature’s waste management and recycling system. It’s a natural process necessary to keep our planet clean and healthy.
More and more of us are trying to understand this process as we strive to take care of our environment. And if you purchase EnvyPak polypropylene products for direct mail, packaging, or storage you probably have questions about it. How long does biodegradation take? Are biodegradable poly film products more expensive? And do they perform as well as regular, 100% recyclable polypropylene?
Educating our customers about our standard and biodegradable polypropylene is an important step towards environmental responsibility. That’s why we’d like to address a few misconceptions and answer the most common questions we’ve received about our biodegradable poly and how it works.
This blog will give you straightforward information about the biodegradable polypropylene used in EnvyPak clear envelopes, packaging, and business products so you can make an informed decision when selecting and using our products.
What does biodegradable plastic mean?
Biodegradable plastic is a recyclable plastic that usually contains an organic additive that helps the plastic break down into carbon dioxide, methane, water, inorganic compounds, or biomass. Biodegradation takes place in landfill conditions but doesn’t proceed in a predictable, linear fashion and is dependent on a variety of factors.
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) defines biodegradable plastics as “a degradable plastic in which the degradation results from the action of naturally-occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae.”
It may take decades or centuries, but all materials will eventually break down. Bioplastic materials, on the other hand, should break down in months or years.
Is biodegradable the same thing as compostable?
People often mistakenly believe that the words “biodegradable” and “compostable” are interchangeable. They are not. All compostable plastics are biodegradable, but not all biodegradable plastics are compostable.
The word “bio-degradable” dates back to 1962 and means “susceptible to decomposition by living organisms” (especially bacteria) and consists of three words: “bio,” “degrade” and “able.” This means that the object can be biologically broken and decompose naturally in the environment. What’s produced and left behind after this process is a substance from natural sources that don’t contain chemical fillers that can harm the environment. And biodegradable products don’t release carbon, because none is used in their manufacture.
Compostable means the breakdown process will result in compost or humus. To be considered compostable, bioplastics must meet the ASTM D6400 standard for compostability – they must biodegrade in a specified time period leaving no toxins in the soil.
Biodegradable and bio-sourced are two different things.Bio-sourced means the plastic is made from renewable raw materials such as corn or other plants and contains no petroleum. Other biomass sources include milk, tapioca, and vegetable fats. In their manufacturing process, they save energy and emit less carbon because the plants used in the process already have the same amount of carbon. Biodegradable refers to an end of life process where the plastic will usually break down, under certain conditions and with the help of bacteria, and turn into water, carbon dioxide, methane, and biomass.
What is a biodegradable plastic made of?
Plastics treated with organic additives promote biodegradation in landfills by allowing the already present bacteria and fungus to dissolve the plastic, layer by layer.
There are many plastics that can be manufactured with an organic additive to make a biodegradable version, including:
- EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate)
- HDPE (high-density polyethylene)
- PEGT/PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and
- LDPE / LLDPE (low-density polyethylene and linear low-density polyethylene)
- PP (polypropylene — #5 is used by EnvyPak)
- GPPS (general purpose polystyrene)
- HIPS (high-impact polystyrene)
- PVC (polyvinyl chlorine)
- PC (polycarbonate)
EnvyPak BioPoly products are treated with one such additive, called EcoPure®, that makes them biodegrade at a faster rate – in both aerobic and anaerobic environments than plastic that is not treated.
EcoPure® is organic, meaning it’s made with carbon-based ingredients. When biodegradation occurs, no toxic residue that’s harmful to live organisms either on land or in water is produced.
It takes typically less than a 1% concentration of additive to transform a non-biodegradable plastic of just about any type into an eco-friendly alternative.
Does EnvyPak’s’ BioPoly start to break down while it’s still in use?
No. For biodegradation to occur, EnvyPak biopoly must be disposed of properly in a landfill. Light, oxygen, moisture, and heat all help the process along. As the bioplastic comes into contact with certain landfill microbes, the microbes send out signals (described as a “quorum-sensing process”) that attract other microbes. This, in turn, hastens the breakdown of the chemical bonds of plastic polymer.
Does EnvyPak’s BioPoly really biodegrade?
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) develops and publishes voluntary consensus standards for a wide range of materials, products, services, and systems. They help us have confidence in the many products and services we use every day, from manufacturing additives to construction, highway safety, and consumer product safety and standards.
EcoPure is tested using the ASTM D5511 method to measure how much methane and carbonaceous gases are produced by the plastic breakdown process. This method shows how quickly plastic treated with EcoPure breaks down as compared to non-treated plastic.
Read more about the ASTM D5511 testing process here.
How long does it take for EnvyPak products to biodegrade?
The honest answer is that it depends on many factors. Research conducted for this article cited anywhere from three to six months to decades for complete biodegradation to occur.
What we do know for certain is EnvyPak’s organic additive accelerates biodegradation in microbe-rich landfill conditions.
Accurately measuring biodegradation is very difficult because the system is so complex and made up of so many microbial metabolic processes that are used by other bacteria in the system.
Learn more about EnvyPak testing results here.
Actual biodegradation rates will vary in biologically-active landfills according to the type of plastic used, the product configuration, and the solid content, temperature, and moisture levels of the landfill. The additive only reacts when the plastic comes into contact with landfill conditions, and not during the useful life of the treated product.
Do EnvyPak BioPoly products have the same functional characteristics as regular EnvyPak polypropylene envelopes?EnvyPak products treated with EcoPure are just as strong as our regular poly envelopes. EcoPure does not affect EnvyPak envelopes’ strength, recyclability, appearance, or compatibility with automation. Shelf life is not affected. If you select EnvyPak packaging with biodegradable material, the durability and safety of your product will not be compromised.
Is EnvyPak biodegradable poly a lot more expensive?
The cost of our biodegradable version is typically about 10% more than our standard polypropylene.
Can EnvyPak BioPoly be printed on?
Yes. The film utilizes a corona-treating system that allows the film to be receptive to ink and improves printing and coating quality.
Can EnvyPak biodegradable polypropylene be recycled?
Yes, all EnvyPak products are made from 100% recyclable polypropylene (coded #5 for recyclability). It is still recyclable even when treated with BioPure additive for biodegradability.
More and more communities are participating in curbside recycling of #5 polys. Also, check with local drop-off programs at supermarkets and recycling facilities.
Enter your zip code on this site to locate facilities near you that offer #5 recycling.
Not only are EnvyPak products recyclable, but they’re also “right-sized,” meaning they reduce the amount of packaging that’s needed for a product. Both standard and biodegradable EnvyPak polypropylene products can be reused, which reduces material consumption and saves energy, compared to single-use throw-away plastics.
EnvyPak is based in Ohio and manufactures the best-looking and best-performing polypropylene business mailing and packaging products in the marketplace. EnvyPak has been used by prestigious brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Citibank, PNC Bank, Target, and others.