Disposable cups have become a popular topic of discussion with many new BIO products entering the market creating more confusion than ever.
And with the WA government recently announcing the single-use plastic ban, cups are set to go by 2021 and coffee cups and lids by 2022.
So if you ever wonder – what is the real difference between the two – plastic and biodegradable alternatives, you’ve come to the right place.
Now let’s fire you up with a few stats first:
- Australians throw out 2.7 million single-use or disposable coffee cups every single day.
- This adds up to 1 billion coffee cups thrown out every year.
- These numbers do not include cold drink cups and so-called hot cups made out of polystyrene.
That’s a lot of single-use cups being produced, delivered, used and thrown away. So perhaps it’s time we talk about the materials we throw away with them.
What are plastic and bio-plastics made of?
Plastic cups also known as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) are ultimately made from fossil fuels. Oil – the finite source we so eagerly dig up from the ground. The production of PET is said to produce 75% more CO2 than bioplastic.
Biocups PLA (Polylactic Acid) bioplastic is made from plant-based materials (starch) such as tapioca, corn, sugarcane and cellulose.
How can we recycle them?
In WA, plastic cups are sadly NOT accepted in your yellow-top recycling bins and should be disposed of in your general waste bin.
Even though they are made from plant-based materials, in WA, plastic cups are NOT accepted in your FOGO (Food Organic and Garden Organics) recycling bins and should be disposed of in your general waste bin
In Australia we allow companies to use the term ‘Bio’ without proof. So not all Bioproducts are created equal.
They may have different non-plant based additives in them or are made differently hence require a different process to biodegrade. That means different times, temperatures and environments to break down.
Composting facilities need to be able to apply the same process which generates homogenised product (compost) at the end.
Finally, as products are not clearly marked, it creates huge confusion of the end market (us consumers) and will require a lot of education to avoid contamination.
Bio plastics – Compostable vs commercially compostable
Most biodegradable products will need a special commercial process to be broken down within a reasonable timeline.
Here in Australia, we have these two certifications that you may find on some cups and packaging indicating what type of composting they need.
“There are Australian standards, AS4736 – 2006 and AS5810 – 2010, which specify the conditions that must be met for a plastic to be considered compostable. It is voluntary for manufacturers to verify that their products conform to them.
“For a product or packaging to be verified compostable according to the Australian Standards it must biologically disintegrate and biodegrade in the relevant composting system to set levels within a defined period of time. The resultant compost must meet specific quality and ecotoxicity criteria.” – Rowan Williams from Bioplastics.org.au
As the name suggests, home compostable will break down in your home compost and ‘seedling logo’ products will have to make their way to a special facility.
Btw. to find out who’s truly certified you can also go to: https://bioplastics.org.au/certification/who-is-certified-in-aus-nz
How to dispose of your cups bioplastics or otherwise
Firstly, it goes without saying, but we’ll still say it. Avoid and Reuse will always be better than single-use. So if you can use a cup or a glass, you are the winner! (and our hero!)
If you happen to end up with bioplastic packaging, make sure to dispose of it in the general waste bin.
The problem with bioplastic is they are deceptive and look like plastic, so many people contaminate our yellow-top recycling bins with them.
There are a few cafes with a specialised bin (provided by a private company, not a council) that accepts bio plastics. These bins are usually placed at the venues which kind of defeats the purpose of take-away since you have to consume the product on the spot or remember to bring it back. (You might as well byo container next time.)
Which one is more sustainable?
It’s not an easy question. In our opinion, there are many angles to the problem. Replacing single-use plastic items with single-use bio items may not make much of a difference depending on many factors. Such as how much CO2 emissions they created while being produced but also to travel to its final destination to be used and finally disposed of.
In other words, locally made plastic that can be recycled could have a lower impact than bioplastic that was made from organic corn that travelled from Thailand to China to be made into products and then shipped to Australia to end up in landfill.
On other hand, once we have a well-developed infrastructure that can capture and compost bio packaging, plant-based products ideally locally made in WA, are the way to go as they are made out of renewable materials, not oil.
Either way, the best is to BYO your own cup or container which can be reused over and over again.
Or even better! – Sit down with a real cup and enjoy the view.