Why you shouldn't believe in biodegradable plastic claims

Plastic packaging has become the epitome of the take-away culture. Plastic straws, lids, forks, spoons, wrapping - wherever you look the convenience of taking away food or drinks on the go has stripped us of our conscious decision making skills.

When I opened bttr. one of the main priorities was to create as little waste as possible.

This included the packaging for our products, and although glass is far more expensive and limits our shipping capacity I felt it was the right choice given the environmental concerns that are only growing louder.

Plastic was first invented in 1869 in America, as a substitute for ivory. Synthetic polymers since then have dominated our society, especially since WW II.

Natural polymers like cellulose in plants, can be easily broken down in nature but the synthetic polymer chains which are often much longer and made up of combinations not found in nature therefore become an indestructible material that is hard to dispose of.

Whilst some plastic production undoubtedly pushed technological advances forward and made transportation available to us that was not possible before (think cars, airplane interiors, cellphones) in todays food and beverage industry it is one of the worst culprits in terms of the environment.

This to me is the saddest part: plastic is used for primarily disposable products, yet it lasts forever.

Like so many things, the decision to replace natural materials with plastic has many of our possessions cheaper, lighter, safer, and stronger and ultimately it comes down to short sighted financial gain.

Since it’s clear that plastics have a valuable place in our lives, some scientists are attempting to make plastics safer and more sustainable. Some innovators are developing bioplastics, which are made from plant crops instead of fossil fuels, to create substances that are more environmentally friendly than conventional plastics. Others are working to make plastics that are truly biodegradable. Some innovators are searching for ways to make recycling more efficient, and they even hope to perfect a process that converts plastics back into the fossil fuels from which they were derived.

However, these innovations take time and especially the recycling part of the so - called biodegradable plastics are often not available at all refuse and recycling stations in big cities.

This means regular plastic in the yellow bin frequently gets mixed with the biodegradable plastic ANYWAY therefore making any claim that this is a sustainable alternative completely false.

Sadly this type of greenwashing is popular in the sustainable age, and it happens in the health sector, the fashion industry, the car manufacturing industry: you name it.

What really bugs me about it is that supposedly sustainable businesses make the switch to plastic after using glass because it is of course more profitable and makes sense when calculating profit margin. Many customers will choose plastic over glass because it involves less running around essentially saves time.

However, there is another reason juice manufacturers use plastic as opposed to glass packaging: shelf life. Using a high pressure process filling machine, liquids bottled in bendable polymers are able to undergo a process knowns as HPP - sucking out the oxygen from the container and thereby preventing airborne bacteria from spoiling the contents. I’ve tried HPP juices multiple times and was disappointed every time. The shelf life is extended from 4 days to over 8 weeks, and the resulting juices to me always taste muted, flat, and not energising in the slightest.

There is various research surrounding HPP and the denaturing of enzymes and vitamins, but to me the taste is the deciding factor.

It made me sad to see that 2 of the biggest juice producers in Berlin decided to bottle in plastic - of course this is the way they managed further expansion and growth, but it makes the whole message of a nurturing ‘good for the body, mind and soul’ green juice shop pretty diluted in my opinion.

We all have the choice when it comes to packaging, carrying around a tote bag to use at the market, or buying the unwrapped fruit and veggies where possible will all make a difference in the long run- hopefully the advanced technologies in plastic and recycling will soon make just as much of an impact.


That’s the first rant over! If I've offended you, remember it is just my opinion.