Recyclable vs. Biodegradable


Recyclable Vs. Biodegradable

The term recycling is very much in the mainstream these days. Everyone wants to buy products that can be recycled. That’s is probably because everyone wants to do their part for the environment while at the same time getting the product they need, want, and are familiar with. Certainly with the help of government policies, initiatives, efforts by cities and towns, and social media the word “recyclable” has become part of our everyday life now.  People in almost every country now separate their recyclables from those products that are not recyclable. And although many products now have the recyclable logo or symbols on them, and other products are made with recycled materials, at times we all just take it for granted and don’t even look for the logo and symbols on them. Many people would say and be correct that the recycling has greatly helped with climate change and all of us being eco-friendly.

So what does recycle and made from Recycled products really mean?

Products that can be recycled are those that have components in them that can be broken down through supply chain and manufacturing processes so that some of the components of the original product can be used to build another product. Recycled products are those that are made from these components. For example, components (materials, compounds) from empty soda cans that can be recycled might be used to make an aluminum patio chair.  Or plastic bags or cardboard boxes designated with the recycle logo might be broken down to make a new bag or box.

But with all recycling processes, not 100% of the product can be used. Usually somewhere between 50-80% of the product can be used for recycling. So there is typically always some waste.  And once the next product is made from the components of the previous product, the resultant new product usually cannot be recycled again. So when that second product has its end of life (the chair breaks or the bag is used), none of it can be recycled and it is all waste, and probably ends up in a landfill.

How do the Recycling Centers process these reusable components?

Another issue most countries and towns have is how to separate the recycled products.  They need to separate plastics from metals from cardboard, etc. because they are all processed differently to make new products out of the components that are reusable.  Even though most towns in the US now have separate trash collection just for recycled materials, those materials are all combined and need to be sorted.  In many recycling centers in the US they have conveyor belts that separate the products based on using sensors and magnets.  Others have to split bags open first just to get to the contents inside to sort them.  Anyone who has watched Toy Story 3 with their children gets the idea. Some places still use people to hand pick product off the conveyor to sort them correctly.   And some people still use recyclable bags for the trash that is not recyclable, and then the bag never makes it to the recycle processing center, and instead ends up in a landfill and is never recycled. 

Also unfortunately the US used to stack these sorted materials and send them to China for them to use to create new products.  China started to refuse these shipments in 2019. It turns out they have enough of their own.

Why is Biodegradable different than Recyclable?

Well you probably could recycle a biodegradable bag. But it would not be a good candidate for recycling because it breaks down on purpose in 12-36 months. Biodegradable bags decompose on their own much more quickly than regular plastic bags or recyclable bags. At BagUps we have added a chemical agent to help the bag decompose even more quickly when exposed to oxygen and sunlight.  The bag itself will decompose in 12-36 months into crystals that are made up of the molecules they are made of.  Including if they were floating on the ocean.  So you would not put recyclables in a biodegradable bag – you would put in your normal food trash that can’t be recycled. And it will end up in a landfill.  And then when the bag breaks down all the contents (coffee grounds, left overs, etc.) will break down soon after that – and it will create methane gas that can be potentially harvested for energy. And then the bag is gone forever – zero waste.