What Are Biodegradable Garbage Bags Anyways?

Posted by Allen Czermak on

Many have debated as to whether or not biodegradable plastic garbage bags truly break down or not. Over the years, environmentally friendly products have become very popular across a variety of industries. Some of these products include biodegradable baby diapers, grass seed mats, camping coolers, rubber gloves, and of course biodegradable clear trash bags

People are swarmed with marketing material in grocery store chains and warehouse clubs nationwide with products that claim to help the environment. Call it “The Green Project” or “The Green Initiative”, all of these programs have one clear objective, to reduce pollution and allow the environment to flourish in its natural state. So, as consumers we are supposed to absorb this message and think that when we purchase a biodegradable phone case it will in fact help the environment and prevent ozone layer depletion. If it does indeed help the environment then we have justified “The Green Initiative” but if it does not then we might as well use high quality plastic trash bags. It’s kind of like the protein shakes, if they help people lose weight then great, but if  not I might as well have that Hershey bar. It’s not that we should flood the environment with plastic bags, but as consumers we truly need to know if what we purchase stands up to what it claims.

How Many People Are Testing To See If Biodegradable Plastic Breaks Down?

In truth it’s not the consumer's problem to identify if a product really decomposes when it ends up in the ground. The onus should fall onto the manufacturer who makes the product. They have to do the research and development to determine if these biodegradable bin bags are breaking down faster than the typical plastic bag. Do your homework on the different types of biodegradable plastics and get feedback from the makers as to how long it takes to decompose.

Society can only rely on researchers who take the time to study the results of using biodegradable plastics. There are many fraudulent claims on the market about these materials being eco-friendly and saving the planet. For example, electric cars claim to produce zero carbon emission since they don’t use gas. However, the battery in an electric car is made out of lithium, and mining it is not a green activity. According to PregurU, by the time an electric car comes off the assembly line it’s responsible for 25,000 pounds of C02. Compare that to the amount of CO2 of a regular car which is 16,000 pounds. In addition, electric cars run by electricity  which is produced via coal. Co-founder of Sun Microsystems said it best “Electric cars are coal powered cars”.

How Do Manufacturers Determine If An Item Will Decompose At A Faster Rate?

When a product is labeled  “eco friendly” the term could be used very vaguely. Many energy companies claim to be eco friendly because they are affiliated with some green project. This might include sponsoring neighborhood events where community members will go down to the seashore and cleanup plastic bottles and bags. Shirts with the company's logos are handed out and images from the event will be published to press releases but back at the production plant are they really eco friendly? 

When it comes to biodegradable plastics, researchers will often place them in fields and monitor the biodegradation process over time. In other instances, they will use a high pressure vat and recreate the microbial metabolic processes to speed up the breakdown of biodegradable plastics. Once the results are collected the team of researchers will show a report that proves a faster breakdown than the typical ten to twenty years it takes for a plastic bag to decompose. At that point, manufacturers of plastic will decide whether or not to go ahead with production. An item which goes through a thorough biodegradation test does indeed deserve the green label of being eco-friendly. On the other hand if put to the test and it is revealed that organisms in the earth soil are not breaking it down any faster, we would refer to such plastic as biodegradable impostors. 

University of Plymouth Research Study On Biodegradable Plastic Bags

When a young person is determined to solve a problem they will often overcome many hurdles to come up with a solution. A group of college students at the University of Plymouth put biodegradable plastic bags to the test. Five types of these plastic shopping bags were buried in comparable conditions that they would occur at the end of their lives. The findings were quite surprising. All the plastic bags were fully functional after 9 months. These bags were set in the ocean and soil to allow them to decompose in their natural resting place. 

According to data published by the EU Commission, approximately five billion of so called biodegradable plastic bags are distributed each year and labeled as eco-friendly. Consumers will never know the truth about these types of bags. It is important that shoppers get educated on what type of bags they are actually purchasing and how it will impact the environment.

Compostable Vs Biodegradable Trash Bags

Due to the influx of many biodegradable trash bags that don’t really break down in the environment, a different term is given to those types of bags that are proven to fully decompose. These are referred to as compostable trash bags.  This means that manufacturers of such bags have complied with government agencies who see that the bags meet certain environmental standards. Now they can be sold to end users that are looking to have a positive impact on the environment. 

Using Compostable Garbage Bags Benefits Marine Life

Unfortunately, the plastic bag you receive with your Chinese take out will often end up in the ocean. In fact, when a team who was exploring the deepest parts of the ocean where only certain organisms can live due to the extreme cold and intense air pressure, plastic bags were still found there. Sea turtles and other mammals can swallow these plastic bags and die. Sometimes, it will get caught around its mouth not allowing it to open, and then starve to death. 

When a compostable bag comes in contact with the ground or ocean waters it will break up within three to six months. That is an astronomical reduction from regular plastic bags which are ten to twenty years. For now it seems to be a breakthrough and consumers need to know how to identify such bags. Read the label and see who certifies it and if it was actually put to the test.

What Is The Difference Between Regular Trash Bags & Compostable Trash Bags?

The main difference between a regular trash bag and a compostable trash bag is the density, better known as trash bag thickness. Low density trash bags are thicker while high density trash bags are thinner and are typically used for lighter trash like paper, leaves, and other lightweight items. These are the type of trash bags you will find in an office receptacle by the paper shredder. Be it that they are not as thick the breakdown process will be slightly easier . High density trash bags are measured in microns while low density garbage bags are measured in mil. Just to give you an idea as to how different they are a mil is one thousandth of an inch and a micron is one ten thousandth of a centimetres. 

Are Compostable Trash Bags Prone To Rip?

Yes, they are not to be used as your typical trash bag. Compostable plastic is made specifically for lightweight items like when shopping at the grocery, and purchasing a couple of fruits, cereal, and some vegetables. These bags help spearhead the problem of so many regular plastic shopping bags that remain in our environment for many years. If we can get a local grocery, restaurant, gas station to use such bags, it will have a significant impact on our environment. Keep in mind that these bags breakdown within six month as opposed to the typical ten to twenty years of a regular plastic bag.

Final Words

Compostable trash bags have a purpose for areas where there is a large accumulation of lightweight trash. This might be in a warehouse or office setting where there is lots of paper and box stuffing laying around. It is very hard to find a regular trash bag which is compostable due to the lack of weight they can handle. The average tall kitchen garbage bag can sometimes contain 25+ pounds of household trash. There is no way that a compostable trash bag can hold that weight. 

It is important to protect the environment and maintain its original beauty. As humans we occupy a space called earth and its God given beauties. Let’s keep it that way, be it by using compostable plastic bags when possible. But, no one is expecting you to use a compostable garbage bag for regular trash, it will rip. If you want to really make the world a better place, give a smile to your neighbor, it will go a lot further than going green. 

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