Biodegradability

Organic substances will eventually biodegrade once it is discarded into nature…

There are laboratory tests that evaluate if substances will “readily” biodegrade once it returns to nature. The OECD 301 series methods are the most widely recognized. These methods evaluate the biodegradability of a product in the presence of oxygen.

A “readily” biodegradable substance will degrade rapidly in the environment without the risk of accumulating in the environment (provided oxygen is present in the environment in question).

But these same “readily” biodegradable products may not be biodegradable in the absence of oxygen. Such products as these risk accumulating in lakes and river sediments.

Biodegradability alone is not a guarantee of environmental and human health safety. For example, a biodegradable product containing phosphates (and other sources of phosphorous) will be an environmental stress. Similarly, a biodegradable product containing alcohol and solvents will present a toxic risk to human health.

Disinfectants are construed as poisons. A disinfectant cleaning agent is not necessarily readily biodegradable.

Biodegradability: Biodegradability attempts to express the fate of a product once it returns to the environment. If it is biodegradable, it will be assimilated by the environment. If it is non-biodegradable, it will accumulate and pollute the environment.

No vague or non-specific claims (eg “environmentally friendly”, “eco-friendly”, “green” etc…). Such words can be used if qualified by specific claims with evidence or third-party verification (such as Global GreenTag – once approved).

No self-declared claims of achieving sustainability.

Companies should avoid claims such as “. . . free” (e.g “formaldehyde free”, “phthalate free” etc…). They can usually not be demonstrated to be literally true because the substance in question may be present in the product due to contaminants and background levels. Instead use “No added . . .”, which can be verified.

If the claim can be misinterpreted or misunderstood, always include an explanatory statement along with the claim. An explanatory statement will always be required unless the claim is valid in all foreseeable circumstances with no qualifications.

All self-declared environmental claims must be:

  • accurate,
  • verifiable,
  • not misleading,
  • substantiated,
  • specific,
  • unlikely to result in misinterpretation or misunderstanding,
  • true to the final product AND also take into account the entire product life cycle (all ingredients).

An environmental claim is not considered verifiable (and therefore will not be compliant) if it can only be verified using confidential information. Information required to verify claims must be either released to the public or disclosed upon request to any person seeking to verify the claim (such as Global GreenTag wherein it enables you to make claims verified by Global GreenTag).

Documentation for verifying claims include (non-exhaustive list):

  • standard or method used;
  • documentary evidence, if the claim cannot be made by testing the finished product;
  • test results, if necessary to verify the claim;
  • third-party certification/verification.

Specific environmental claims (Compostable, Degradable, Recyclable, Recycled Content etc…) and comparative claims must follow specific rules set in the standard.

For a comprehensive list of requirements, refer to the full text of ISO 14021 and its current amendments.

No everything in life is perfect – our plastic containers are not biodegradable within an acceptable time frame. As a result we have introduced a recycle policy that imposes a financial implication on our customers – customers are advised that a deposit is added into the selling price on all products supplied; allowing them to return the container to be refilled or to claim the deposit back or alternatively we will re-sell the empty container to a recycling company. This policy has achieved the desired response from our customer base and has also allowed GREEN WORX to recover costs to an extent.