Biodegradable Packaging Not as Eco-Friendly as Promoted, Says Coalition

April 14, 2011

Biodegration in modern landfills should not be encouraged, as the net greenhouse gases produced by such landfills outweighs the benefits of energy recovery.

Although more companies are marketing biodegradable packages, such packages may not be the best route to sustainability, according to a new report from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC; San Diego, CA).

In the report, Assessing the Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Biodegration in Landfills, the coalition says that although companies are marketing biodegradable packages as beneficial due to the growing use of methane-rich landfill gas for energy, in fact biodegration in modern landfills should not be encouraged, as the net greenhouse gases produced by such landfills outweighs the benefits of energy recovery.

“We are seeing more companies position biodegration as a benefit, even for materials likely to end up in landfills where biodegradability is not a desirable trait,” said GreenBlue Project Associate Adam Gendell, who led the SPC research project and authored the report.

“The growing use of landfill methane as an energy source is a commendable mitigation strategy, but it has created a false sense of optimism,” Gendell continued. “Energy recovery only puts a dent in the greenhouse gas profiles of landfills; overall, they are still a tremendous contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.”

The report presents the latest understanding on how materials behave in landfill environments and the mechanisms that influence biodegration. It also provides an objective comparison of the greenhouse gas benefits of energy recovery relative to the harmful, unavoidable landfill emissions. Finally, the report takes a look at the natural and engineered strategies used to mitigate the effects of the greenhouses gases produced by landfills, including soil oxidation, flaring, and landfill gas for energy.