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  • Discover why synthetic plastics are bad for our environment, whilst biopolymers, like Potatopak’s potato starch products, are more environmentally friendly. (Potatopak has now rebranded as earthpac).

    The life cycle of a product

    When you assess the environmental impact and sustainability of a product like plastic, you need to consider three key aspects of the product’s life cycle:

    • Is the product made from renewable ingredients?
    • Can the product be made safely, without generating hazardous waste?
    • Can the product be disposed of safely?

    Many of these aspects of a product’s life cycle can have an adverse impact on us and our environment. Sometimes products are called environmentally friendly if they meet just one of these aspects of production or disposal. Currently in New Zealand, there are no laws that regulate which products can be labelled ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘biodegradable’ – consumers should do their own research to see if a product is as environmentally friendly as it claims.

    The life cycle of synthetic plastics

    Synthetic plastics are made from petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource with a limited supply. Expansion of the plastics industry will only deplete these resources further.

    Synthetic plastics last for a long time. After they are thrown away synthetic plastics may end up contaminating waterways, harming aquatic life and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. While plastic recycling is possible, the sorting and separation required is very labour intensive.

    The life cycle of a potato plate

    Potatopak’s products are 100% environmentally friendly at every step in their life cycle.

    Potato plates are made from starch extracted from the waste water from chip-making. By recycling the starch, Potatopak is reducing factory waste. If the waste starch is not recycled, manufacturers dispose of it down the drain or use it to water pasture. Unfortunately, raw starch is not biodegradable – it can suffocate the soil, kill pasture and harm animals that feed off it, and can also form sediment on river beds that doesn’t break down.

    The manufacture of the Potatopak products produces no toxic fumes and only a small amount of solid waste. A local pig farmer uses the waste to feed his pigs and any leftovers will biodegrade within four weeks.

    Throwing away Potatopak products

    All waste taken to landfills as a result of curb-side collection is compressed under tonnes of soil. There is minimal oxygen and moisture present to enable microbial decomposition, so materials that may be biodegradable will still take a long time to break down under these conditions.

    Consumers who purchase Potatopak products are encouraged to dispose of them in compost or worm farms. The potato starch is 100% biodegradable and compostable, and the material can completely decompose in four weeks with no harmful chemicals leaching into the soil.

    Are other products so environmentally friendly?

    Other companies in the world produce similar products, but many are not 100% environmentally friendly when you consider all aspects of their life cycle. Some use wax coatings to overcome the problem of water reacting with the starch, but this affects the biodegradability of the product, and some use bleaches to make the product whiter, but these leach toxins into the soil when they are composted.

      Published 7 December 2008, Updated 4 April 2017 Referencing Hub articles
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