Why Biodegradable or Compostable Plastic Liners Don’t Belong in the Organics Cart

November 7, 2022 - There is a lot of confusion out there about plastic items that are labelled as biodegradable and compostable and whether they can or should go in the organics cart (e.g. compostable plastic bin liners). The labels imply that such items break down and disintegrate, but it’s more complicated than that. Consumers are not in the wrong to believe that, but the terms biodegradable and compostable are ambiguous.

So, what’s the deal?

Plastics that are certified as biodegradable or compostable will break down—but only under specific conditions, including a minimum period of time and when exposed to a certain minimum temperature.

The challenge is that not all composting facilities operate under these conditions. If they don’t, the plastics won’t break down properly and can end up contaminating the finished product and polluting the environment. They can also introduce microplastics and chemical additives into the soil as they break down.

In addition, use of the terms biodegradable and compostable is not regulated, which means that some of the products on the market labelled as such may not actually break down, even under the required specific conditions.

To address these challenges, the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy is recommending the removal of biodegradable and compostable plastic from the list of acceptable materials in composting facilities in a forthcoming update to the provincial Organic Matter Recycling Regulation, scheduled for release in 2023.

In the meantime, anyone receiving curbside organic waste collection wanting to line their bin is asked to use paper-based liners only. Learn how to make your own from newsprint or use any paper-based liner, such as paper shopping bags, cereal/cracker boxes, parchment paper (not wax paper), or paper takeout boxes.

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