There’s a rising flood of new materials that are said to solve a whole raft of environmental problems. The two biggest categories are materials that are recyclable and materials that are biodegradable. Most materials are theoretically recyclable. But is it cost-effective? Is there a proven recycling stream? If the answer to both of those questions is no, then it’s very possible that recycling is more of a marketing strategy than an environmental solution. One of the new claims is for a roof that is recyclable.
Several new plastics have been launched that are biodegradable. This runs against the normal requirement that products remain intact. Some environmental groups want packaging that breaks down when disposed of. The problem is that materials don’t break down in landfills, which are designed to be anaerobic so that toxic waste does not leach into aquifers. And there are virtually no commercial composting facilities to handle biodegradable packaging.
But there are some real winners, like toys made with waste agricultural materials.
Here’s how I grade some environmental claims, with an A representing some real potential environmental value and an F indicated a way overblown marketing claim:
►Toys made with waste agricultural byproduct:: A
►Biodegradable kitchen utensils: D
(These would make sense only if you take a picnic in the forest, and then just dump the utensils on the ground)
►Recyclable plastic fuel tanks: D
►Recyclable roofing materials: F
►Film made from sugar feedstock: B
(This gets a good grade because Brazilian sugar cane is an economically competitive feedstock that replaces oil, and has no adverse effect on food supplies.)
As I see announcements come in, I’ll grade them here. Feel free to send me suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have no ambition to become the kosher rabbi of materials’ environmental claims, but I would like to see a little more sensibility.