I wrote this blog post as a result of seeing the increase of single-use plastic products being used while I was traveling and visiting camps this summer with my work as a challenge course inspector and trainer. I’m always looking for solutions to share with camps to help them model sustainability and recently started learning about bioplastics. Bioplastics will not solve the plastic crisis, but I do believe they can provide a valuable educational opportunity to help camps and other businesses demonstrate the impact of our actions and behaviors on our one and only planet.
Interested in more information about bringing bioplastics along with educational resources to your organization? Complete the following form to get started!
Bioplastics Interest Form
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the steps that camps are taking to create safe and engaging environments for both youth and adults. Some camps closed completely, but many reduced their capacity and implemented policies set out by the CDC such as the ones listed below.
Portable Handwashing Station at Sky Ranch in Van, TX
-Signed waivers with information about travel, COVID-19 symptoms, and potential exposure
–Increased cleaning practices with more frequency
-Outdoor seating for meals
–Operating in smaller groups (pods)
–Wearing buffs/masks in situations where social distancing isn’t possible
–Hand washing/Hand Sanitizing stations
–Regular equipment washing (Contact me for resources on best practices for washing ropes equipment)
–Daily temperature scans
-Plastic Dividers on dining room tables
-Markers on the ground to encourage social distancing
-Single-Use Plates, Cups and Cutlery
–Employees/Staff wearing PPE
None of this probably comes as a surprise as these actions are being taken around the world in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We hear a lot about the economic and social impact of this pandemic, but have you heard much about the environmental impact? There have been some wins for the environment through the pandemic such as fewer carbon emissions from traveling, reduced business activities, more people getting outside and exploring the natural world, and a surge in backyard gardening. However, I’m afraid that the negative impacts far outweigh the positives especially as the economy continues to open back up.
I’m an advocate for anything we can do to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but I don’t believe we have to do it at the expense of the health and well-being of our planet. The challenge of modeling sustainability was overwhelming on its own without the added challenges of a global pandemic, but one of my mentors would often say that as camp professionals, “we do hard things”.
It takes teamwork, collaboration, and good problem-solving skills to accomplish the “hard things” related to sustainability. Being intentional can help you make decisions that reflect the economic bottom line, the environmental impact of programs, and the health and wellness of the youth and adults impacted by those decisions. Consider how the pandemic has influenced those decisions and the associated outcomes.
One of the biggest and most challenging decisions we have to make due to COVID-19 is how to reduce the spread of the virus. These decisions add a clear economic cost to business operations but are vital to moving back to some sense of normalcy.
A common approach to reduce the spread are through the increased use of single-use disposable plastic items since they are said to prevent the risk of cross-contamination and infection. These items are piling up and the amount of waste being produced is staggering.
The good news for the planet is that there are alternatives, but from an economic standpoint they have a tough time competing with their plastic counterparts. With this in mind, I want to help camps explore alternative options. One option that seems to have good potential as you’ll learn more about below, are bioplastics.
What are Bioplastics?
“Bioplastic” is defined as plastic made from plants or other biological material instead of petroleum. It is also often called bio-based plastic.
Not all biodegradable plastics are made from bio-based materials
Some biodegradable materials are made from plants. Others are made from petrochemical resources.
Biodegradable plastics do not all break down the same way.
There is a range of different biodegradable plastics that break down at different rates depending on the environment they end up in. Factors such as moisture, temperature, and the presence of oxygen have a big impact on the rate at which microbes are able to consume the material. Many of these materials are designed to be processed in industrial composting facilities and will not necessarily degrade in soil or marine environments.
Not all compostable materials will break down in a home compost.
Commercial composting systems are able to consistently operate at higher temperatures than home composting. This is due to its scale and better airflow. Some compostable plastics need to be held at a higher temperature in order to start the biodegradation process. If a plastic item is certified commercially compostable you will need to check if there is a commercial composting facility in your area that will accept it. If plastic is certified home compostable it can be composted at home.
Biodegradable plastics cannot be recycled.
If you don’t have a composting facility in your area, the only other real option is to throw it in the trash. Because compostable plastics aren’t the same as traditional plastics, they shouldn’t be thrown in with your general recycling.
Reusable plastics are more environmentally friendly than biodegradable plastics
Having an item like a reusable water bottle or keep a cup that can be used over and over again is generally a much better choice for nature than using an item once (single-use) even if it’s certified compostable.
Are bioplastics more expensive than conventional plastics?