Earth Matters by Jacqueline Milner – A Few Thoughts on Biodegradable Bags – January 23, 2011 – Cornwall Ontario

Cornwall ON – We are at the point in our household that we have to source a bag which can hold garbage, especially the wet greasy rubbish, and be earth friendly.  I took a trip down the packaging isle of a grocery store yesterday to see what products were available.  Sadly there are still many traditional plastic options available for this purpose.  There are also degradable and biodegradable options available.  So what is the difference between the two?

Degradable plastic bags generally incorporate a chemical additive which causes the material to break down when exposed to oxygen, light or heat.  These are suitable for landfill disposal, however may pose a threat to animals as they mistake pieces of the partially degraded bag as food and ingest it.  I noted information on one of the packages that the time frame required to degrade the bag was from 10 to 100 years.  Certainly better than the projected 1000 years for a traditional plastic bag; hardly a solution for the plastic bag litter crises experienced throughout the world.

Biodegradable plastic bags are made from natural materials such as cornstarch or potatoes which under the right conditions will break down into carbon dioxide, water and methane. According to International Standards as noted on the site, “bags need to compost within 12 weeks and fully biodegrade within 6 months”. One challenge associated with this option is that the integrity of the bag can easily be compromised when it comes in contact with wet garbage such as coffee grinds. You may therefore find holes in the bag before it is full and ready for transport to your garbage collection bin.

I guess the point which should be stated here is that according to the website noted above, “neither of these solutions fully addresses the plastic bag litter problem”. The best case scenario is to eliminate the need for using a bag…period.

It seems the best solution is to incorporate composting and careful shopping into our shopping and waste disposal routines.  Use bag items which would normally end up in the trash bin as a garbage container.  Eg. Your pet food bag.  This bag usually includes paper along with another plastic layer to preserve the integrity of the food. As much as I dislike such packaging (I have corresponded with the manufacturer of the products we use encouraging them to use more eco-friendly solutions) it is what our household purchases our pet food in. So using it before disposing of it at least makes the most of the life of this material. I admit I normally just dispose of this bag in the collection bin…from this day forward it will be filled with refuse before disposal.

A little reminder to help you eliminate your garbage woes.   Avoid overly packaged purchases, especially if this material is not recyclable. Use green bins if your community offers this service…certainly wish it was available in my community. Use newspaper to wrap your wet garbage that cannot be put in the green bin or composted.

Recycle! In this day and age it is an absolute disregard for your fellow man and our planet if you are not taking part in a recycling program which is accessible to everyone. Your children and grandchildren are going to inherit this earth.  What will they say when they find out that there were options available for you to be a friend to the earth and you chose to do nothing?  And finally folks…reuse and repurpose. There are many things people put out to the curb which would be considered ‘quite a catch’ by someone else.  I rescued a wonderful Christmas wreath kicked to the curb on garbage day, made mostly of plastic which found new life on my door and was greatly appreciated.

How do you avoid plastic bags in your garbage collection routine? Do you have information that can be used by Mr. & Mrs. Joe Average? Please share below or to One small action by many can make an amazing difference.


  1. This just in. The following Canadian company incorporates sustainable practices and offers a biodegradalbe kraft paper product made to help with your garbage and composting routines. Their website notes where product is available…not currently available in Cornwall. You can purchase on line.

  2. Thanks for discussing this important subject. Billions of plastic bags go right into the environment each year where they sit for hundreds maybe thousands of years. There is a 3rd solution that will truly work for ALL discarded plastics.

    Additives exist that can be added to everyday plastic bags and plastic products during manufacturing to render them 100% biodegradable. So the bags have exactly the same shelf life and durability as always but will breakdown in less than 15 years when disposed in active microbial environments like a landfill. ENSO Plastics even makes their complete line of these additives from organic and renewable sources!

    Specific microorganisms are attracted to the additive. They feed on it, multiplying and colonizing. As they metabolize the additive they recognize the carbon in the plastic polymer and begin to use that as a food source as well, secreting powerful enzymes which break down the polymer completely.

    What is left behind is inert humus (soil) and biogases (carbon dioxide and methane), same as an apple core or a banana peel thrown in the landfill.

    But you don’t have to take my word for it, go to the website yourself! 3rd party, Certified test data using internationally accepted ASTM methods is publicly available for you skeptics out there like me. The FAQ page is a great place to start.
    Max Clark

  3. @Max…thanks for sharing this very useful information. I hope you have also been sharing this with ‘big business’ that continues to produce this type of packaging. We need to get big business on board and working to incorporate sustainable and respectful business practices and products. Our Earth and children will thrive and prosper with nothing less.

  4. As always an excellent informative article Jacqueline.

  5. @Stan…appreciate your ongoing support Stan. Thank you!

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