Prisha Hill

Zero Waste living in a disposable world

The Biodegradable Scam

Recently I’ve seen a lot of people (friends/family & random strangers on the internet) become more environmentally conscious and wanting to at the very least reduce their plastic use, which is fantastic, the more the better. It would appear a lot of people are starting to become more aware of their dependence on single-use plastic now that bars and restaurants are moving away from plastic straws in favour of paper ones, or at least hiding the straws away from sight resulting in people having to ask for one if they need one. Actually, I recently replied to a FB comment stating that some people have disabilities that mean they need the flexibility of a plastic straw and so the stainless steel straws aren’t suitable and we therefore shouldn’t judge. I replied saying that it obviously depends on the specific disability but a silicone straw may be an option instead as it is just as flexible as plastic but less harmful to the environment… and is dishwasher safe. One lady then almost accused me of being ableist saying it’s not for us to tell disabled people which straws they should use, but everyone else generally didn’t know you could get silicone straws and understood that I was merely offering up an alternative option to plastic that may work for some. Either way, I genuinely think it’s absolutely fantastic that people are starting to think about the issue and have a debate about it, let’s keep it up!

I was even jumping for joy the day the government announced a ban on wet wipes… until I read up on it and discovered their plan is to phase in the ban over the next 20 years! 20 years is just utterly ridiculous – I honestly believe this ban could easily be brought into effect within 2 years. Yes, wipes seem to be everywhere these days – baby wipes and make up remover wipes are the first that spring to mind, but then there are also ones infused with furniture polish so you can clean your house, disinfectant ones, ones to clean your behind with (which should absolutely NEVER be flushed down the toilet), there are even ones for wiping the dog’s paws with… and probably many more I’ve not yet discovered.

In most instances these wipes are utterly superfluous, and could easily be replaced with alternative options – remember changing a baby’s nappy with cotton wool and a bowl of water? Did you know you can remove make up just as easily for a fraction of the cost of a pack of wipes? What was so wrong with spraying furniture polish with one hand and wiping with a cloth in the other? Somewhere along the way we seem to have fallen victim to large marketing firms pushing a disposable ideology onto us, sacrificing the environment for the sake of profit margins.

So the UK government have given firms a 20 year deadline to come up with an eco-friendly version of their wipes, but there are already companies popping up advertising their biodegradable wipes. Of course the biodegradable version is more expensive, but it’s okay because it’s better for the environment so people will be happy to pay the extra… and that’s the scam, people will pay more but it’s likely the biodegrable claims are effectively a great big steaming pile of BS.

I’ve fallen for this myself back in the day. I bought some nappy sacks to use as doggy poo bags because they were biodegradable but didn’t think too much about it beyond that. It was only a few months later that I realised that in order for the bags to biodegrade they need to be placed within a bio-active substance, for example being buried in soil, which doesn’t generally happen with poo bags (or nappy sacks in general either). In fact the bags I got didn’t actually specify what conditions the bags would decompose under.

Typically, when it comes to poo bags, nappy sacks and baby wipes, the products will likely be encased in a plastic bin bag and sent to landfill along with millions of other bin bags and so they won’t start to degrade for 500 years anyway, just like with the non-biodegradable version.

Soil obviously isn’t the only option for biodegradation – there are packing peanuts you can now get which fully dissolve in a bit of warm water. So when it comes to all these new biodegradable wipes that are being advertised to me I thought it was only fair to ask the manufacturers what conditions need to be met for their product to biodegrade but, after over a month, I have yet to see any responses… if you’re determined to use wipes rather than any more environmentally friendly alternative then shop smart! If the packaging says biodegradable but doesn’t give you disposal directions then save your money.

Please don’t wait 20 years before ditching the wipes, be the change and discover all the wonderful alternatives that await you now. If there’s a specific type of wipe that you don’t know how to do without then please get in touch and I’ll see if I can help you.

1 Comment

  1. Yes, the biodegradable term does leave me thinking where the product actually ends up as most of the time it doesn’t tell you how to dispose of them. I recently wrote a post on tips on how to reduce our plastic usage, and advise everyone to stay clear of the wet wipes and cotton buds. They’re awful! Using a simple flannel does the trick a lot better.

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