Sep 30, 2020

Compostable Mailers: Helping the Environment in Small Ways

 Author's name: Ester Adams

Despite the encouraging trend towards a more sustainable lifestyle, plastic pollution remains one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues. About 8 million tons of various plastic wastes make their way into the ocean from many coastal countries every year.


Compostable Mailers: Helping the Environment in Small Ways

Image credit: Forage and Sustain

Due to an assortment of additives, plastics today are stronger, more flexible, and more durable. These are great qualities for consumer products, but a nightmare once they become waste. It takes around 450 years for plastic to decompose in water.

Plastic wastes that end up in the ocean kill millions of animals by entanglement or starvation. That is even before they are broken down into microplastics, then microfibres. The smaller pieces of plastic are ingested by more than 100 species of aquatic life, damaging their internal organs or blocking their digestive tracts, eventually killing them as well.

With the perils of the current situation, what can we do? We can do a lot, actually. And one of them is using a compostable mailer.   

What Are Compostable Mailers?

Compostable mailers are courier bags made from polybutylene adipate terephthalate or PBAT combined with polylactic acid or PLA. PBAT is a bio-based polymer that is highly biodegradable and easily decomposes even in home settings. What is more, this binder leaves no traces of toxic residue as it breaks down.

On the other hand, PLA is a plastic resin made from plant materials such as wheat straw and regular field corn. It is compostable and made from a renewable resource, which is great for sustainability.

PLA itself is compostable, which means that it would break down into harmless natural compounds under favourable conditions. The addition of PBAT makes the products degrade much more quickly, enough to meet the criteria for home composting. The result is a product that is as durable as plastic but composts within six months.

Compostable  V/s  Biodegradable?

The terms biodegradable and compostable are sometimes interchanged, but they mean different things. A biodegradable material is anything that breaks down into smaller compounds. It has no limits on how long the process takes. Strictly speaking, even regular plastic is biodegradable. It just takes hundreds of years to break down. What is worse, toxic residues can be released into the ground during the process.

While compostable materials can also be broken down, they do so at a much faster rate than biodegradable products. Additional steps do have to be taken, such as bringing them to an industrial compost heap or setting up a home compost. But it is not a big price to pay given the enormous help it offers to alleviate the current problem of plastic pollution. In addition, the compostable mailer does not release harmful substances into the environment as it goes through the process.

How to Dispose of Compostable Mailers

Once you receive your package, you can proceed to dispose of it. First, remove any plastic material from your compostable mailer. This includes shipping labels, stickers, and any packaging tape. If you have a compost heap at home, you can just add it to the pile and let it do its work.

If you don’t have home compost, find out if your community does compost and ask how they collect the waste. If not, you can petition your council or community leaders to get involved in this activity. Alternatively, you can take your compostable wastes to a nearby commercial composting facility.

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