Understanding Bio-Plastics. A Guide to Recycling Terms

Common Terms Explained

There are four main categories that often get confused or misused when it comes to plastics or food waste:

Degradable

Biodegradable

Compostable

Recyclable

We’ve also included an explanation of oxo-degradable products.

Degradable

These are plastics or polymers that are technically ‘degradable’ i.e. you can break them down (whether with a hammer or by a chemical process). These are petroleum-based and will not break down in a landfill unless exposed to heat or sunlight, in other words, if you bury them in a landfill they will not decompose.

Plastic Cutlery

Further, the chemical by-products produced by these mean they cannot be placed with biodegradable or compostable waste as these have the ability to contaminate whole batches of biomaterial.

Example: plastic forks, milk bottles and single-use plastic bags made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and the low-density polyethylene (LDPE) used to make plastic wrap, thick plastic bags and toys.

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