A lot of terminology has been floating around these days- Biodegradable Plastic, Bioplastic, Compostable Plastic- what does it all mean?
Let's start with Compostable Plastic. This is a plastic that undergoes biological degradation when it is composting that yields carbon dioxide, water, and inorganic compounds that leaves no visual distinguishable or toxic residues. You may be familiar with ASTM D6400 which covers plastics and products made from plastics that are designed to be decomposted in industrial and municipal aerobic composting facilities.
Bioplastics are plastics that are considered "environmentally friendly". They are made from natural materials such as corn starch. Since bioplastics are made from corn starch, some can break down in a few weeks. The cornstarch molecules absorb water and swell up thus causing them to break apart into small fragments that bacteria can more readily digest.
Biodegradable plastics (also called photodegradable, oxydegradable) are made from traditional petrochemicals which are engineered to break down much more quickly. Biodegradable plastic contain additives that cause them to decay more rapidly in the presence of light and oxygen. The down side is that biodegradable plastics don't always break down into harmless substances and can sometimes leave behind a toxic substance that can make them unsuitable for composting.
There are varying opinions as to whether these forms of plastic are actually good for the environment.
Since posting this blog, we received some great comments. One comment was:
You're right, a good deal of confusion exists with the terminology used in the bioplastics industry. For example, bioplastics are biopolymers, but biopolymers may not be bioplastics. Biodegradable, photodegradable and oxodegradable are very different types of products. Photo and Oxo products only break the plastic into smaller pieces leaving behind plastic fragments.
It looks like Halogenated Fire retardant additives will be outlawed in the coming years. That is what is on the horizon, with Europe reportedly leading the way in 2015!
The problem with Halogenated materials is that while they are very effective flame retardants, they contribute to additional smoke generation. In recent years, public pressure has come from both public and governmental entities. They have supported the use of non-halogenated flame retardants due to toxicity to the environment and smoke generation concerns.
What is the problem with halogenated fire retardant plastic sheeting? When plastic sheeting (polyethylene film) burns or undergoes thermal degradation when exposed to sufficient heat for a long enough period of time, the chemical result(off-gassing) is affected by the additions such as plasticizers, stabilizers, pigments, fillers, and flame retardants. We know the role of the flame retardant is to interfere with the chemistry and/or physics of combustion such that flammability is altered under a specific set of conditions.
The high efficiency and relatively low selling prices of halogenated flame retardant additives has been less than a motivator to pursue non-halogenated FR additives in a large scale manner.
For our customers who want a non-haloginated Fire Retardant Plastic Sheeting, we can help you out. For more information ask for Lee Hinsley. He is our resident fire retardant Expert!