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Biodegradable materials

Biodegradable materials can be broken down to their constituent parts by naturally occurring chemical compounds at the end of their useful life.  Biodegradable materials can be natural or synthetic. 

Natural materials such as bioplastics made from a plant based materials such as starch or polylactic acid, are greatly favoured over petrochemical variants which waste natural resources that could otherwise be recycled. 

Biodegradable materials are currently used in the manufacture of bags, cutlery, pens, clothing, credit cards, food packaging, agricultural films, teabags, coffee filters, diapers and napkins [1].  However, one of the key issues is to recognise when using them is that to actually degrade, materials often have to pass through a specific set of environmental conditions.  Unless consumers understand that they need to put their packaging, cutlery or credit cards on the compost heap, it will not biodegrade and the functionality of the material will be wasted.

[1] Datschefski, E., Materials Choice. 2004.

Update November 2006, V. A. Lofthouse