One of the topics we didn’t explain much in the book (there was no clear place to put it as it fell outside the main arc of the material) was why materials simply being “biodegradable” isn’t enough. The reason is in how landfills work.
Basically, nothing in a landfill decomposes much. Without sunlight, water, or organisms penetrating the tightly compressed material, there simply isn’t much hope of any decomposition. I’m attaching an image to illustrate this.
It’s not uncommon to hear stories about excavated landfills digging-up material that’s 100 years old (like newspapers) that look as new as the day they were put into the landfill. So, just because something is biodegradable doesn’t mean that it will be disposed of in a way that will let it actually biodegrade–like composting.
When we evaluate the environmental impact of products, we have to be sure to only count as sustainable the material that is actually biodegraded or recycled and not material that is designed such that it can be recycled or biodegraded (which is still important).
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