I've been a big fan of reusable plastic wrap for years now, so I'm always on the lookout for new ways to replace single-use products with those that are better for the environment. But there's one problem: biodegradable and compostable plastics aren't quite as durable as regular plastic wrap. So I wondered—is there such thing as biodegradable or compostable plastic wrap? What's the difference between these terms? And how can consumers make sure they're buying products that actually live up to their claims?
Biodegradable plastic is a more general category of products that will break down in an aerobic environment. Compostable plastic, on the other hand, must meet the ASTM D6400 standard for compostability. This means it will break down in a controlled composting facility with certain environmental conditions (such as time and temperature), which makes it more useful for consumer applications like food packaging.
If you want to be sure that your wrap is truly biodegradable, look for one of these three icons on the packaging. The Biodegradable Products Institute's logo means that the product meets their standards of compostability—which are stricter than those used by ASTM International (the organization responsible for developing standards used in many industries). The ASTM D6400 standard applies to plastics made from polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), and polystyrene (PS) resins; it requires that products break down within 180 days in a commercial composting facility. And finally, EPA's Design for the Environment program sets voluntary guidelines for manufacturers to reduce environmental impact while producing their products.
How can you know if a claim is true?
The only way to know whether or not a plastic product is truly compostable is by looking for the Biodegradable Products Institute’s certification. In order to earn this certification, products must pass rigorous testing that ensures they will break down in typical home compost bins within six weeks and be safe for backyard use. It’s also important to note that not every single product bearing the BPI logo will actually biodegrade in your backyard—it all depends on what it’s made of. For example, some plastics are too dense or too rigid to break down.
The Biodegradable Products Institute also offers three other labels: certified compostable (for plastics), USDA 100% Compostable (for paper), and Green Dot (for packaging). These labels indicate that an item has been tested for safety in home and industrial composter conditions, but none of them specify how quickly or completely an item will biodegrade if you place it in your own backyard bin after use.
You can also find biodegradable plastic wrap in the form of bags or wraps that are specially designed to be composted. These products will have labels indicating they are either ASTM D6400 certified, BPI certified or labeled with a Green Dot logo on them.
Let’s take a look at these three different certifications:
We know this can seem like a lot to take in, but we hope that we’ve made it as easy as possible for you.
The bottom line is that there are some options out there that truly are biodegradable or compostable—you just need to look for specific labels on products to tell. And if you want to go above and beyond, investing in reusable alternatives like beeswax wraps or glass jars will save you money (and the planet) in the long run!