People sometimes question PLA because it needs industrial composting conditions to break down and these aren’t widely available. It’s important to realise that this problem is part of a much bigger issue. We have a waste crisis. Huge quantities of non-biodegradable plastic enter our world every second, most of it soon becoming waste. We also send a lot of our green waste (food, agricultural and compostable waste) to landfill, where it can’t break down properly.
Unlike plastic, PLA is green waste. While plastic is designed to withstand the effects of microbes (making it non-biodegradable), PLA is designed with nature in mind and can still break down. But what’s the point of being compostable if there isn’t enough suitable composting? Well, we humans have just begun waking up to how important composting is – and we’re not currently equipped to deal with ALL kinds green waste, including PLA. Most banana peels, carrot tops and everything else aren’t getting composted either. A whopping 40% of what we send to landfill is green waste! This is crazy.
We’re sending biodegradable waste to a place where it can’t biodegrade. And, while lots of people can, and do, compost at home (which is not the right solution for PLA), home composting can never solve our waste crisis. Our enormous human population needs large-scale waste management solutions – including large-scale composting. This will reduce the high environmental impacts of landfill, lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce waste, and help recondition soils.Also, PLA isn’t the only green waste that needs higher temperatures to break down. Thick bones, woody plants and many other materials also break down much better in industrial composting conditions. So, PLA is a step towards a future world.
A world we’re still building: where renewable & compostable materials are the norm, and zero green waste goes to landfill.In the meantime, our PLA is still more sustainable than plastic in several ways. It’s made from renewable plants, not fossil fuels and is less environmentally damaging to produce (no oil drilling or fracking). It’s also certified compostable and has demonstrated that it won’t leave any toxic residues in soils. In contrast, plastic cannot break down in any composting conditions. Estimates for how long it lasts range from 450 years to forever. And studies show that harmful additives to plastic polymers often leach out into soil and water.
Producing PLA has also been shown to have a carbon footprint about 70% lower than that of plastic. And even if PLA does end up in a landfill, these benefits will remain and unlike plastic, it will eventually break down, even if it takes a very long time.