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 www.noplasticbags.org.au 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org One small action by many can make an amazing difference.