Greenwash Of The Week: Biodegradable Plastic Water Bottles.

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Each and every week I get PR emails about supposedly “green” products, and while most of them are OK, some of them are just plain absurd. Last week I got an email from a PR agency about a new kind of bottle that is purportedly reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable…but yet is still made out of plastic. Once again, the greenwash monster strikes again, trying to sell yet another plastic product that gets disposed of instead of a product that is a one-time purchase that lasts forever.

The product is the BioGreen Bottle, which “contain an additive called Biobatch (formerly called EcoPure) which causes them to biodegrade when exposed to a microbial environment such as a landfill or compost pile. They degrade into biogas and a biomass that adds nutrients to the soil. Unlike degradable corn-based plastics, BioGreen Bottles are not affected by heat or light. They come in various sizes, and are great for kids, adults, cyclists, runners and just about anyone who is looking for a practical way to be greener.

In reality, a “practical way” to be greener is to buy a reusable bottle made of aluminum or stainless steel that can be reused thousands and thousands of times and filled up with tap water. As long as it is maintained, it will last forever, is not made of plastic, and doesn’t need any fancy chemicals to render a formally non-biodegradable product biodegradable. That is truly a way to be “green”; buying plastic bottles is most definitely not.

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Comments

  1. That actually brings up a good point…

    I’ve been trying to buy more green products, but even companies like 7th Generation package their liquid goods in plastic bottles. Aren’t there better alternatives? Can’t these companies use products similar to GreenBottle that are more environmentally friendly than high carbon plastics? http://www.greenbottle.com/

  2. I’m amazed how many people don’t understand that just because a plastic bottle breaks into small plastic pieces, doesn’t mean it’s biodegradable. For something to be biodegradable, something needs to be food for microorganisms. How do we get the word out?

  3. This is another great example of Greenwashing in action…really just marketing and trying to appear green. Products that say organic blend or natural blend or essential oils used are similar. Just a marketing technique.

    Green plastic is made from corn called PLA plastic and they aren’t quite there for bottles from what I understand. The additives help plastic compose but not biodegrade. PLA is 100% biodegradable but the problem has been in heat testing…hopefully it will improve soon.
    Thanks!

  4. If they are reusable, why are the designed and coated with chemicals to make them supposedly “break down” (which I think someone else mentioned actually cannot happen)? Companies like this are only using greenwashing to sell a product, as this is not really eco-sensitive at all. I understand your concern, but I am wondering if single use “real” plastic isn’t a better option, as it can be really recycled into another product, whereas this partially breaks down and spreads plastic through the landfill.

  5. Granted, a steel or aluminum reusable bottle is ideal however is the BioGreen bottle NOT a decent alternative to traditional plastic? The BioGreen bottles I think you are referring to are REUSABLE sports (bike) bottles. They are also made of 20% post-industrial plastic (#4, which is recyclable at certain facilities). I am contemplating sponsoring a community bike ride which raises money for community outreach programs that build bikes from recycled bike parts to donate to communities in need worldwide. They are in need of water bottles for the event. I would love to donate stainless steel bottles for each of the 400-500 riders however my budget is quite tight because I own a SMALL business and we are just starting out. But key to our mission is sponsoring programs and events like these. To both serve our marketing needs and our desire to provide an eco-friendly incentive for riders, we are leaning toward these BioGreen reusable bottles. Don’t get me wrong – I agree that avoiding plastic is best but wouldn’t these bottles be better than disposable single use water bottles and better than traditional plastic without the additive that would help the plastic breakdown into humus and methane if it were to end up in a landfill?

  6. Maybe so, but for example if you are running an event, you can control the recycling, thus the “regular” plastic would be a better option. Plastic cannot fully degrade in the environment, as it is made from petroleum. They can add all the chemicals to it that they want, but nothing can “make” plastic fully degrade to nothing. Reusable? Sure, but then so is regular plastic. Recyclable? Not like regular plastic, as it will partially fall apart after a while, as that’s what it is designed to do.

    In my opinion, for events like yours, “real” plastic is better, as it can be fully recycled into another product and none of the plastic particles ends up in a landfill. Also, no chemicals need to be used to coat the plastic prior to use.

    This product, to me, is greenwashing at it’s best. There is no such thing as “eco” plastic that is made from petroleum, no matter what anyone does to it.

  7. I would imagine they are designed this way because there are a great number of people who are lazy and might toss a perfectly good reusable water/sports bottle.
    Here is the website where I found info”¦ http://biogreenbottles.com/degrade.php Either I need a science degree to read between the lines and understand that this is all wrong or they are completely lying (aka green wash). I am just thinking that if it is reusable, has recycled content and can be recycled but will biodegrade if sent to a landfill, then it is a better choice even if it is not the best choice.
    I can see the value of the disposable PET bottle idea if people at collection points were able to recover each one and they were recycled/turned in to RPET fiber for other uses.
    Thanks for engaging in this conversation with me ”“ I value your opinion!

  8. Not my event, just wanting to donate something they need but still enviro. responsible. Another alternative is a reusable bottle made of 60-70% recycled content (post-industrial regrind scraps from factory making traditional plastic bottles – scrap diverted from waste stream). It is #2 plastic which is more readily recycled. Veering off bio topic now, but thanks for your input!

  9. So how does plastic biodegrade? Without having something added to it? And once it’s added, it cannot be recycled because it is designed to fall apart.

    Soft drinks also come in aluminum.

    It’s not about doing away with plastics – it’s about doing away with plastic bottles to carry water in.

  10. Not all plastic is green washing. There are individuals and companies like ours (ENSO Bottles) that see themselves as interested is saving our environment. ENSO considers itself an environmental company. Yes, we offer a biodegradable PET plastic bottle. The reason we do is that we saw huge piles of bottles going into our landfills that were going to be there for a long time. We knew something had to be done…and soon.

    By the way, most of our landfills are the “Dry Tomb” type of landfill…stuff doesn’t go away very fast in a standard landfill, it”™s just buried and out of sight.

    ENSO is supporting/proposing building new landfills which are called “Bioreactors.” Bioreactor landfills cost more to develop but the stuff we put in them breaks down into CO2, Methane water, humus, etc. A bioreactor landfill is designed to capture and use the gasses, many of which are use to produce electricity. The reality is that we humans are going to produce garbage…why not put our trash to a good use and let bioreactors convert our waste into electrical power….rather that just bury it in a “tomb?”

    ENSO also supports the development of plant biofuels that can be used to produce plastics….not food plants such a corn…plants such as algae. Using food plants to produce fuel isn’t a good idea…food prices rise, grain becomes scare in countries that need to import our grains, the land is polluted by pesticides.

    ENSO supports recycling. We need to use things over and over to gain the maximum benefit from the resource. Plastics…especially PET bottles, can be recycled into many other useful products. The problem is that sooner or later, most things end up in a landfill. ENSO wants all landfills to be bioreactors and we want the plastic that ends up in a landfill to be biodegradable.

    Our goal here at ENSO is to have sustainable biodegradable plastics. We feel that all plastics should be biodegradable. All plastics should ultimately be made from non food plants. All plastics should be recycled to the maximum extent possible and at the end of the plastics useful life sent to biodegrade in a bioreactor landfill to produce something useful.

    By the way, PET doesn’t have DEHP or BPA’s. If you reuse a bottle and it is scratched inside…yes, bacteria might grow….but that could happen to any other type of container.

  11. Again – there is no need for plastic bottles to be anything other than plastic bottles. You cannot “biodegrade” plastic – it never goes away, no matter what you coat it with. And once you make it supposedly “biodegradable”, it is no longer recyclable.

    Buy yourself a reusable bottle and be done with this stuff forever.

  12. First of all…it’s not a coating, secondly, it does biodegrade. What about…soft drinks? They come in plastic bottles. What about everything from your couch, the computer you are using, carpeting, most of your automobile, almost everyting you can see or touch is made of or has some plastics…do we do away with all plastics? Or, do we make all plastics biodegradable?

    Max

  13. So your plastic, which you add something to (still not sure what it is) to make it biodegrade faster than 500 years, can supposedly be combined with regular plastic and recycled…yet it is designed to biodegrade. Not sure if I want a product made from recycled plastic that has had something added to it to help it biodegrade faster.

  14. How does plastic biodegrade?
    Good question. Please bear with me. My answer is a little lengthy and hopefully, I”™ll be able to demonstrate that plastics aren”™t the enemy, it”™s the type of plastics that we current use that are causing problems.

    Keep in mind that everything on the planet is made from atomic particles. Even things that are “man made” are made up of atomic particles. Plastics are made up from atomic particles, and most plastics are made from hydro-carbons, meaning they are made mostly from hydrogen and carbon.

    The thing that makes most plastics an environmental problem is their properties. Bottling and packaging plastics are designed for to keep out oxygen so that the food product inside is preserved from naturally biodegrading/rotting. Oxygen is an extremely permeable atom and can make its way through just about any type of barrier (including plastics).

    Most of the plastic currently being used in the beverage industry is Poly (ethylene terephthalate) commonly called PET. PET has been designed to have an extremely tight chemical bond and is an excellent container for beverages/food but is horrible on the environment. The standard PET plastic that we currently use for water, soft drinks and other beverages is so tough it won”™t go away. It can be recycled, but the fact is that someday even the recycled plastic will find its way back into a landfill. That”™s where the environmental problems occur, standard PET doesn”™t break down in our landfills within what we humans consider a reasonable time span (like 10,000 to a million years). Ten thousand years isn”™t acceptable to ENSO and we believe it isn”™t acceptable to other reasonable thinking persons living on this planet.

    The other aspect to keep in mind is that everything on the planet will decompose and biodegrade over time. Microbes are found all over the planet in every aspect of our lives and are constantly breaking things back into their atomic parts. This is also true for plastics, and as previously mentioned, plastics have been engineered to be very strong which is why it will take thousands of years for microbes to break plastic back into biogases and/or biomass.

    We here at ENSO consider ourselves an environmental company. We are concerned with our environment and with the negative impact plastic is having on our environment. That”™s why ENSO is here, we decided something needs to be done…not just with bottled water but rather with all plastics.

    The technology behind our biodegradable PET bottles includes an additive which is added during the manufacturing process. Our additive adds organic compounds which hydrostatically bond to the PET plastic and does not change the chemical structure. This allows PET packaging to maintain its same beneficial physical properties. We felt that PET was so entrenched in our lives a more realistic approach toward having a healthier environment would be to make a better plastic.

    ENSO Bottles are different from PLA or Oxo-degradable plastic bottles. The additive that”™s in an ENSO bottle does not activate until the plastic is placed into a highly microbial environment i.e. landfill. Once our plastic is in a microbial landfill environment, our additive which has a swelling agent, opens the PET bond. An added microbial attractant then helps facilitate microbial colonization on the plastic. Once microbes have colonized on the plastic they begin to break down the PET bond through atomic reorganization using some of the atoms as energy leaving behind either methane (anaerobic) or CO2 (aerobic) and inert humus. Currently, this process will take from one to five years, depending on the microbial environment.

    ENSO bottles biodegrade from microbial digestion, a natural process of everything that biodegrades. However, ENSO Bottles do not begin biodegradation process until activated from a microbial environment. We feel that ENSO bottles can be comingled in with the existing PET recycling stream. I believe some of your information and thinking is based on oxo-degradable technology which used oxygen to degrade (not biodegrade). Oxo-degradable and PLA (plant starch based plastics) aren”™t compatible for comingling with current PET plastic recycling streams.

    Our goal is to have all plastics biodegrade. Only then can we achieve a true cradle to cradle, sustainable plastic that we can use, recycle and when its useful life is over return it safely to the earth.
    I don”™t know if I”™ve changed your thinking in any way, but I want to say that that we agree, something needs to be done and soon. We feel the ENSO is just one step in the right direction.

    Max

  15. Actually plastic can be biodegradable, as a matter of fact plastaphilic microbes are in existence all around us, the amount of time for these plastaphilic microbes to eat the carbon matter, which is in all plastic it must need nutrients. If you would like to join my online webinar to understand how plastic really can be consumed, digested, and utilized please feel free to contact me at our company email address.
    sales@bio-tec.biz

    Thank You,
    Samuel Adams
    SRVP Bio-Tec Environmental
    http://www.bio-tec.biz

  16. Why can’t we all just drink water from our own two hands, isn’t that what they were evolved for? That’s truly green and being truly green is what BEING is all about!

  17. For all the evils of plastic, as we purge our plastic infant wash basins, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Plastics, as mentioned in previous posts, are found everywhere and were they not I propose we would be inflicting a burden still on this planet. Without plastics, likely an even more drastic ill effect would result. A functional plastic container weighs only a small fraction of the weight for a comparable glass or metal vessel. Imagine the transport necessary to stock your local grocery stores minus the advantages of plastics. In summary, we can’t afford the metal and glass that plastics have displaced and we dare not try to. What Samuel Adams is providing is bloody genius, bless you Sam, your product is a godsend.

  18. I am reminded of a quote that goes something like, “Trying to reason with an engineer is like mud wrestling with a pig. Sooner or later, you realize the pig enjoys it.” The biggest obstacle to your development is believing that you already know everything. I studied Chemical Engineering in college and I must agree that this is a good option for breaking down and biodegrading plastics at a faster rate. While it is not a perfect solution, we must honor the plastic additive as a transitional product while we educate people about the power of their purchasing choices. Until we reach the point where everyone begins using their hands as drinking vessels, this product will help move the collective consciousness forward. Press on!

  19. I recently addressed this issue with the advent of the Plant Bottle by Coca Cola and the Eco Bottle by Arrowhead in a recent blog post (http://www.thechicecologist.com/2009/05/green-water-bottles-plantbottle/). It’s so interesting that we the consumer has been stuck with the cleanup from the waste produced by these companies.
    “Don’t litter” has been replaced with “Please Recycle”, but its really all the same. We have the tools today to be done with this kind of waste, and it will save everybody so much money too!

  20. This is NOT an example of greenwashing. This is an example of trying to adapt a product to ingrained human behavior. If people are going to throw plastic water bottles away, and are going to continue buying them, why not create a biodegradable plastic bottle that will ACTUALLY degrade? It’s called a niche- and it’s obviously available.

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