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What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Over the years as sustainability has become the focus of many, ‘biodegradable’ has become a buzzword in the media. Though it is undeniable that biodegradable products are great, many are not sure what the term really entails. In simple terms, biodegradable refers to the ability of a material to be broken down into sugars and gases by nature. This process is done by bacteria and other microorganisms in the environment to create organic matter and it is essential to the natural life cycle that this process occurs. However, it is important to remember that not everything is biodegradable in every setting. Every material that claims to be biodegradable may only be biodegradable in certain environment, making it important that we provide those right environments for those products. Another issue to keep in mind is that though something may have the ability to biodegrade, it could take several lifetimes for it do so, making it quite unsustainable. For example, a plastic called PLA is made of biodegradable materials, but it can only biodegrade under certain circumstances and over a certain amount of time, meaning it is not so ideal after all. Next time you see the word ‘biodegradable’ on packaging, now you know that it does not necessarily mean it is sustainable!