By Don Ventresca, Technical Service and Development Specialist
The paperboard industry is looking for more sustainable materials to improve the environmental impact of their products and reduce environmental waste. The creation and widespread adoption of biodegradable and compostable solutions can help us solve these challenges. These types of products can improve the environmental impact of waste for communities across the globe, particularly in areas that may not have access to robust recycling programs, for products that are likely to escape to the environment or when reduction, reuse, and recycling strategies are not feasible.1 But what makes a material biodegradable or compostable?
Biodegradability vs. Compostability
Biodegradation is the breakdown of a material with the help of microorganisms, such as bacteria or fungi under aerobic or anaerobic conditions. As the organic material breaks down through this chemical process, the material is converted into natural elements such as carbon dioxide, compost, and more.2 Time plays a critical role in this process, as some materials will biodegrade faster depending on their composition and size. For example, a flower will biodegrade more quickly than a tree branch.
A material is compostable, however, if it is biodegradable and disintegrates into microscopic pieces in a compost environment.3 The time frame of this process plays a much more important role when determining compostability, as all compostable materials are considered biodegradable. A compostable product must have all of its components indistinguishable after a specific time frame in order to receive this designation.
To call a product compostable, a product must meet specific criteria under strict standardized testing. In the paper industry, one of the well acknowledged testing standards utilizes the Biodegradable Products Institute’s (BPI) methods to certify that paper or raw materials meet ASTM International’s D6400 and D6868 testing standards. These standards are a requirement for all end products as some materials may be biodegradable and not compostable due to larger remnants remaining after the testing period. Other certification methods can include OK Compost certifications from TÜV Austria Belgium, which guarantees that products under their label are biodegradable in an industrial composting plant.
Paper products or raw materials can be tested for disintegration using ASTM or ISO methods by undergoing a field or lab test with compostable media. Materials will remain in this medium for 45 days and must undergo 90% of the biodegradability process in that time frame. The material or product’s carbon dioxide levels will be routinely measured throughout the testing process. After the testing period, any remnants are screened through a two-millimeter sieve, which must contain less than 10% of the product’s or material’s original weight to be considered a compostable product.
Trinseo’s newest bio-hybrid binder meets these strict standards and can help improve the sustainability of the paperboard and packaging industry thanks to a proprietary method that introduces corn starch as a feedstock in our binder manufacturing process. Organic Waste Systems (OWS), located in Ghent, Belgium, tested and confirmed that LIGOS™ BH 7340 SCE Binder meets the requirements of the industry standards for biodegradability and compostability. The binder boasts performance properties comparable to synthetic binders, including excellent coater runnability, good cohesive coating strength, and glueability. When used in the right dosing levels and in the appropriate coating layers for the application, LIGOS™ BH 7340 SCE Binder has the potential to replace a significant portion of the total synthetic latex binder for several paper board end use requirements.
Compostable paper products could play a major role in reducing environmental waste, especially in areas that do not have robust recycling systems, or where other waste reduction approaches may not be applicable.
The paperboard industry cannot change human nature – which may prioritize convenience when discarding waste – but we can help improve the impact our packaging materials have in the long term on the environment. Trinseo’s new bio-hybrid LIGOS™ BH 7340 SCE Binder can do just that by helping to enhance the sustainability of the paperboard industry.
1 Biobased, biodegradable and Compostable Plastics. Environment. (n.d.). https://environment.ec.europa.eu/topics/plastics/biobased-biodegradable-and-compostable-plastics_en
2 Biodegradable. European Environment Agency. (2017, February 14). https://www.eea.europa.eu/help/glossary/eea-glossary/biodegradable
3 United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, August 9). Frequently asked questions about plastic recycling and composting | US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/trash-free-waters/frequently-asked-questions-about-plastic-recycling-and-composting