We've talked before about the trouble with biodegradable plastics, and a new study highlighted yet another issue with these plant-based plastic alternatives: in the landfill, biodegradable plastics break down and produce methane.
Let's be honest here: how many people are really composting those compostable plastics? When you go to an outdoor festival or get takeout that includes compostable flatware, do you send it to an industrial composting facility, where it can break down? Or do you toss it into the trash? Most folks do the latter, and that's turning out to be a problem.
When these biodegradable plastics get to the landfill, they break down and produce methane. Of course, food scraps and other organic matter break down in the same way, so biodegradable plastics don't shoulder all the blame for our methane problem.
What's So Bad About Methane?
Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more harmful than CO2. It comes from landfills, combustion engines, animal agriculture, coal mining, and a number of other human activities, and in our atmosphere it traps infrared radiation, contributing to global warming. Our atmosphere is more saturated with methane now than in the past 400,000 years and atmospheric methane has been sharply increasing since around 1750.
What Can We Do?
Ditching the disposables all together is the best thing, but when you're in a situation where it's a bioplastic spoon or no spoon, your best option is probably to rinse it off, pocket it, and take it to a facility where it can really be composted. You might also ask where they're collecting compostables - some event organizers and business owners are getting it right. If they aren't collecting them, you might mention to an organizer or owner that these plastics aren't recyclable and that they do more harm than good in the landfill. Maybe they just had no idea!
You can also help reduce methane in landfills by starting your own compost pile to keep more organic waste out of the waste stream. Not only does composting help reduce your methane footprint, you're creating a free, nutritious soil amendment for your garden! Don't have a garden? I bet you have a gardening friend who would be happy to take that black gold off of your hands!
I'm sure I've just scratched the surface here. What other ideas do you have for reducing our methane footprints?
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by boojee
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