International Compost Awareness Week: Alternatives to conventional single-use plastic items.

Lauren Moriarty
7 May 2020
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Image source: https://www.swedbrand-group.com

International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW) takes place the first week of May each year and is celebrated around the world as the largest education initiative of the compost industry. The ICAW was started in Canada, 1995 and has continued to grow to new heights with the importance of recycling and composting becoming more understood. The ICAW aims to create awareness around composting and the long-term benefits thereof, such as “high quality soil, to grow healthy plants, reduce the use of fertilizer and pesticides, improve water quality and protect the environment” - compostfoundation.org

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Image source: https://sapt.co.za

Throughout the week of ICAW, everyone is encouraged to spread awareness and celebrate composting. Therefore, Nature’s Valley Trust embarked on a project with three WESSA Eco-schools at the beginning of the year looking at the biodegradability of ‘degradable’ or ‘compostable’ items. This is in comparison to that of conventional single-use plastic items which do not degrade and instead break up over time into microplastics further harming our environment. Nearly half of the plastics we use are discarded after a single use where a significant amount of these end up as litter.

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Image source: https://ecopack.co.za

Our goal with this project is to create further awareness of the global plastic pollution problem and how the impact thereof has led to the expansion of biodegradable and compostable options. However, not everyone is willing or able to compost and discarding a product whether biodegradable or compostable into the environment is still a form of littering. This project looks at just simply burying the various items and noticing any changes over a period. The items we have include in our test are: plastic cups vs paper cups;  plastic straws vs. paper straws vs. bio straws; plastic knifes vs. wooden knifes and corn-starch bags vs. compostable “plastic” bags. The biodegradable items are made of paper, wood and compostable plastics which are made from all-natural plant-based materials often including starch, corn oil and other plant material.

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Figures: Biodegradable dig site at Formosa Primary School (left), and the original items places in each spot for monitoring (right).

It is important to realize there is a difference between items that are compostable and biodegradable. Although, burying is not composting, many single-use items are discarded into the environment and end up in landfills. This project aims to see how these conditions impact the degradation time of these biodegradable items and if any changes can be distinguished between those and the normal plastic items.

Our project is not only looking at the variability of products but also the degradability of these in different conditions and the need for clear and appropriate standards relating to these materials with emphasis on appropriate disposal methods and the expected rates of degradation.

Due to the persisting global crises, we had to halt all fieldwork and school projects. This meant that we could only collect results for the first month of the project. Once schools re-open we will continue with the project. Meanwhile, stay safe; stay health and #compost.

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