Robin mentioned that her family recently test drove new biodegradable plates made from banana leaves. The package promised Robin that the plates would biodegrade. Any logical person would assume that biodegradable plates (or bags or cups or utensils) easily break down without creating trash. And we all know that trash isn't something that we need more of on the planet.
What a load of greenwashing!
Since I'm not a scientist and refuse to wear white (black is more stylish), I will not regurgitate the technical mumbo jumbo about biodegration. Basically, you only need four things to break down biodegradable materials. Oxygen, water, nutrition and heat.
In most of today's modern landfills your trash is first disposed of in a plastic bag and then the entire landfill is capped in plastic. Oxygen and water do not penetrate the plastic in the volume needed to break down the biodegradable materials.
Biodegradable materials like veggie scraps, dryer lint, egg shells, wine corks and banana leaf plates can take much, much longer to break down in a landfill then they do in a simple compost bin. For example, if it takes say one month for the average newspaper to compost in a compost bin, that number could jump up expediently in a capped landfill.
Take Hubby's favorite soap as a real life example. This particular Tom's of Maine soap comes packaged in a biodegradable plastic wrap. Instead of landing in the landfill in another plastic bag, I toss it in the backyard compost bin. Once the plastic goes in the bin it seems to magically disappear. With all of the soap that hubby uses (he sure likes his showers) I have yet to see the biodegradable plastic again after it lands in my compost bin. The time it takes to compost seems amazingly short.
(Is it too early to ask Santa for a new camera for Christmas 2009?)
(I'll update this photo when I can catch a little natural light)
What if I was to toss this same biodegradable soap wrapper in the trash? How long would it linger there?
I have posted this question before, but it is worth asking again. Why don't more towns and states offer free or reduced compost bins? Don't they realize they will save more money and resources by simply educating the public about the simplicity of composting and supplying a bin cheaply? How many tons of food and yard waste could they keep out of their landfills? How much money could towns save by cutting the volume of trash?
I recently posed this question to the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. They replied that they don't have enough storage to support the program. I also asked my local highway department about about discounted compost bins for residents. They said that they aren't planning any such program. They are sure missing the boat.