How Effective Are Biodegradable Products in Reducing Greenhouse Gases

  • Jun 3, 2011

questions have arisen in new report on effectiveness of biodegradable materials on environmentAccording to a recent story by Resource Recycling, a new study out of North Carolina State University casts doubt on the environmental benefits of biodegradable materials, suggesting that as they break down they release a powerful greenhouse gas.

According to Dr. Morton Barlaz – the co-author of the study who serves as professor and head of the university’s Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering – materials such as disposable cups and utensils made from biodegradable material are broken down by microorganisms that release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

According to the article, the authors of the study, which did not include yard waste and other compostable materials sent to anaerobic digestion facilities, also point to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency numbers that indicate only about 35 percent of municipal solid waste goes to landfills that capture methane for energy use.

Additionally, many of these products are supposed to biodegrade in short periods of time under Federal Trade Commission guidelines, meaning that the release of the gas is hastened.

Now, I realize that the recycling industry has been at arms with biodegradable plastics for a number of years, as it interferes with the quality of the plastic pellets, once they get recycled, and they are difficult to separate out. Recycled biodegradable plastic might accidentally end up in medical equipment and replacement joints and valves that get implanted in patients, so there is certainly some concern.

That being said, it would be nice to see at least one more study on the effectiveness of recycled products on reducing greenhouse gases.

It does seem that the Law of Unintended Consequences may be rearing its ugly head again.

Any other ideas to reduce greenhouse gases?


  • Category: global warming
  • Tags: biodegradable plastics, can biodegradable plastic increase methane gases, Environmental Protection Agency, greenhouse gases from biodegradable materials, Resource Recycling