So, eco has caught on and yep, some people are trying to make it the new ‘in’ thing. I mean you only have to glance at Instagram now and somebody is claiming to be #livingsustainably or #zerowastelife in their bio– trendy hashtag galore! The truth of the matter is that most of us will never ever be fully living sustainably and you will only be living zero waste if you live out in the woods off the fat of the land. It just isn’t possible in this modern world. Everything we use gives off energy, emissions, produces waste etc. so there is no way I will ever be claiming that I anything but trying my best. Which leads me onto the next new thing… ‘Eco’ products that are just cropping up here, there and everywhere. And the one word that is really bugging me? Biodegradable. And you know where this is going because it’s me, yep, those biodegradable nappies.
Let’s clear some things up, shall we?
Something that is biodegradable has the ability to breakdown without affecting the environment. For example, when a substance biodegrades into carbon dioxide, water, and other naturally occurring minerals, the substance should seamlessly mix back into the earth, leaving no toxins behind. And in order to go through this process, these biodegradable materials need the right conditions. It’s no use putting them inside a plastic bin bag, into your wheelie bin and then carting it all off to landfill to be covered in thousands of more bin bags. Those conditions are suffocating and the mix of items, food waste, products, packaging are not providing the right environment for things to break down sufficiently. Ok, I’m no scientist and I don’t want to bore you with the facts but there are 2 types of biodegradation; aerobic and anaerobic. If you remember back to your school days, one needs oxygen and the other doesn’t. When we compost we usually use aerobic conditions. The matter needs air, a little water, heat plus regular turning in order for it to breakdown into usable compost. The reason most of us do it this way is because the anaerobic way is smelly, really smelly. And this will be precisely why a landfill, stacked high with all of those waste items, surrounded by plastics will stink.
Onto those wonderful biodegradable nappies and wipes then
Let’s face it, it ain’t gonna happen is it? Just recently, I queried some ‘eco nappy’ brands on several social media sites in regards to how they will actually biodegrade in landfill. One refused to answer me. One agreed that inside a bin bag will take far longer than they were claiming it would do and another said putting their products inside a bin bag would be silly as they wouldn’t breakdown. I then asked this particular one if they told all of their customers this and they responded with they always try and make it clear that their nappies need oxygen in order to breakdown so therefore cannot be put into a plastic nappy bag or into an ordinary bin bag. How many of you knew this? I bet not many. And do you know why? Because you have been won over by the word ‘eco-nappy’ ‘100% biodegradable’, ‘compostable’ and so on. And this my friends is what we call greenwashing.
What is greenwashing?
“Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is.”
So for example, Mcdonalds with their new paper straws that cannot be recycled, oil and gas corporations claiming that their company is making eco-changes when they are fuelling others, Ecover which have turned out not to be as eco as we all like to think, Dettol bringing out their refillable pouches that are extremely hard to recycle, biodegradable products that won’t ever biodegrade in the wrong environment and so on. It makes us all feel so much better when we buy something with recycled, eco, green, sustainable, biodegradable in the name but quite often it isn’t actually as true as it wants you to think. This post on Greenwashing is a great read and is packed with information.
Biodegradable doesn’t mean dissolvable
I had to add this point in because it seems that so many people are still confused over biodegradable wipes being flushable. A few weeks ago there was a viral post going around about using baby wipes and it was encouraging overuse of them where it wasn’t needed. In the comments, I saw people defending their move to use them because they could flush them as they use biodegradable ones. Biodegradable does not mean dissolvable!! These wipes will only breakdown in the right conditions as I mentioned above and flushing them into a drain, out into our stream, rivers or oceans will only mean that they will float around for the next few hundred years… for some out of sight out of mind is all that matters though, isn’t it? And just to add, no wipes can be flushed (not even those that still stupidly state it on their packets) as they are clogging up the systems, causing fatbergs and pollution if they escape out.
What can you do?
If you have a compost bin, check to see if these wipes can be put in there, along with your biodegradable nappies because that will be giving them the best chance. It will also prove whether or not their claims are real, too! It’s a little tempting for me to try this if I’m honest. I mean one has claimed that theirs will breakdown in just 15 days!! Seems like a dream product when a cardboard box and an apple will take 2 months, a newspaper will take 6 weeks, wool gloves will take a year, plywood will take 1-3 years and ordinary disposable nappies will take 500 years. Interesting numbers there.
The best thing you can do in all of the instances where you see a product that claims it is biodegradable or eco is to just do your research. Google the product, read the reviews, join eco groups on Facebook and ask some questions or even email the company and hope that you will get a straight answer and not just a copy and paste job. It’s up to us to call out the bullshit and as we are the consumer we have every right to know the truth.
All of this is precisely why I will never like a post that is promoting biodegradable nappies, why I will still question those companies, why I will still talk passionately about going reusable because at the end of the day, landfill doesn’t really give anything a chance to go anywhere and it’s about time we all took stock of that.
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