What’s the Difference?

While we tend to speak about plastic in its single form, it comes as many different types. When looking at recyclables, and environmental impact, it can cause confusion, with some names given to plastic being quite misleading and sounding like it might be more environmentally-friendly than it actually is.

We thought we would take a look at three common but different types of plastic and break them down for you to (pun intended!):

  1. Degradable

Degradable is given to something that breaks down, but it can be quite ambiguous. You can break something down by snapping it into pieces, or grinding it into a powder, this all falls under the category of ‘breaking down’ and therefore doesn’t necessarily mean it dissolves in a positive way. Some plastics have chemicals added to them to help them breakdown faster under certain conditions, but not all of the plastic will disappear. In fact, the little tiny pieces of plastic can exist for many years to come.

Most commonly used for: Packaging.

  1. Biodegradable

Different to degradable plastics, if a plastic is biodegradable it means that it can be broken down by micro-organisms. If a plastic is said to be biodegradable, it still doesn’t disappear entirely, much like degradable plastic, it will most likely disintegrate and become a harmful microplastic.

Most commonly used for: Biodegradable plastic bags.

  1. Compostable

Put simply, compostable plastic biodegrades but usually within a certain amount of time and under certain conditions of which there are very few facilities to cope with the requirements. So while ‘compostable’ sounds relatively environmentally-friendly, it really only is when there is the ability to dispose of items correctly.

Most commonly used for: Packaging e.g. food containers.

Have you read our Report on Ocean Plastics? It contains many recommendations for solutions to plastic use. You can download it from the Artists Project Earth website, here.




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