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Which plastic bags are biodegradable?

2023-11-21

Plastic bags have become a topic of concern due to their negative impact on the environment. They have been found to contribute to pollution, pose threats to wildlife, and take hundreds of years to decompose. In an effort to combat these issues, biodegradable plastic bags have been introduced as a more sustainable alternative. However, not all plastic bags claiming to be biodegradable truly live up to this claim. In this article, we will explore which plastic bags are genuinely biodegradable and their benefits.

Biodegradable plastic bags are designed to break down and decompose naturally over time, returning to their original elements and leaving no harmful residue behind. While traditional plastic bags are made from non-renewable resources such as petroleum, biodegradable bags are usually made from plant-based materials, such as cornstarch or vegetable oils. These materials are renewable and offer a more eco-friendly alternative to conventional plastics.

One commonly known type of biodegradable plastic bag is made from materials like PLA (polylactic acid), which is derived from corn. PLA bags resemble traditional plastic bags in appearance and function but are better for the environment. They have gained popularity due to their ability to undergo degradation within a shorter span of time compared to conventional plastic bags. However, it is important to note that PLA bags require specific conditions, such as industrial composting facilities, to fully decompose. If they end up in conventional landfills, they may not break down as intended, as these sites lack the necessary conditions for proper degradation.

Another type of biodegradable plastic bag is oxo-biodegradable bags. These bags are made from regular plastic but contain additives that accelerate the breakdown process. When exposed to sunlight and oxygen, oxo-biodegradable bags start to degrade more quickly than conventional plastic bags. They eventually break down into small fragments, which can further decompose under favorable conditions. However, it is worth mentioning that there are mixed opinions on the effectiveness of oxo-biodegradable bags. Some argue that these bags only break down into smaller pieces of plastic, contributing to microplastic pollution.

Compostable plastic bags are another option for those seeking biodegradable alternatives. These bags are manufactured from plant-based materials and are designed to break down into compost in specific composting environments. Compostable bags contribute to the production of nutrient-rich soil, which can be used to grow plants and crops. It is vital to ensure that compostable bags are certified by recognized organizations, such as the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) or the European Bioplastics certification scheme, to ensure their compostability.

It is worth noting that not all bags marketed as biodegradable are genuinely environmentally friendly. Some plastic bags, labeled as "degradable" or "biodegradable," may only degrade into microplastics, which can still cause harm to the environment. These bags may break down more quickly compared to conventional plastic bags, but they do not fully decompose in a way that is beneficial to the environment.

To summarize, biodegradable plastic bags are a more sustainable option compared to traditional plastic bags. PLA bags made from plant-based materials, oxo-biodegradable bags containing specific additives, and compostable bags certified by recognized organizations are among the most commonly available biodegradable options. However, it is important to dispose of these bags properly and ensure they end up in the appropriate waste management systems, such as industrial composting facilities, to maximize their biodegradability and minimize their environmental impact.