Biodegradable: Even the name sounds ecologically-friendly, right? Yes. But…
Behind that environmentally friendly term lie some dark, dirty secrets. There’s no question that the decision to “go green” is the right choice, and a praiseworthy one. But anything worth doing is worth doing honestly, and with as much information to help make the transition an easy and lasting one. So, what exactly “lies beneath” the eco-friendly surface of Biodegradability? For starters…
Most Biodegradable Plastic Bags End Up In Landfills, Where Nothing Biodegrades
Many people believe that biodegradable trash bags vanish into thin air when they’re sent to the dump. That’s not quite what happens. In a landfill, nothing—NOTHING—decomposes. That’s because if it did, the environment would undergo serious air, water, and soil contamination. It’s for this reason the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires landfills to keep out air, moisture, and sunlight, which are, coincidentally, the crucial elements for true biodegradation. When your biodegradable trash bag hits the landfill, it won’t biodegrade because it never gets the chance to. In fact, landfills do such a great job of preventing decomposition that, in 1991, the University of Arizona’s Garbage Project published findings from landfill excavations in which perfectly edible carrots were found lying next to 40-year-old newspapers.
But when a BaggerMaid bag with our eco-additive ends up in the environment, it fully degrades in about two years—and that’s where it should biodegrade.
You Can’t Recycle Biodegradable Plastic Bags With Other Plastic Items
Biodegradable plastics are marked No. 7, while most other plastic bottles are marked No. 1 or No. 2. If a plastic labeled No. 7 gets mixed in and melted down with No. 1 or No. 2 plastics, it will contaminate the entire recycled load, because the chemical make-up of biodegradable bags is so different. The only way to properly decompose biodegradable matter is via compost. We don’t mean a home composting pile: The temperature won’t get hot enough to break down the bag. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) advises that a large-scale composting facility is needed to properly decompose biodegradable materials. You can find commercial composting facilities in your area by visiting findacomposter.com, and entering your zip code.
Biodegradable Bags Aren’t As Strong As Conventional Plastic Bags
Most biodegradable plastic bags are made from organic materials, like corn, potatoes, and starch, and if wet trash is left to sit for too long, the bag’s bottom might give out when it is picked up. That means you’ll have to get a second bag. So much for plastic conservation.
Biodegradable bags have other problems. Just ask Pepsi and its SunChips snack brand.
SunChips created the first 100% compostable chip bag. What they didn’t take into account was the sound. Consumers went ape over how loud the bag sounded when it was opened. The issue went viral when a Facebook page called “SORRY BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SUN CHIPS BAG” got 44,000 Likes. PepsiCo listened, and the biodegradable bag was trashed a little over a year after its launch. Snap.
Biodegradable Bags Are More Expensive
You do the math. For about $9, you can get a carton of 38, 13-gallon standard kitchen trash bags. A box of biodegradable bags cost about $30.
True Story: Biodegradable Plastic Bags Can Harm The Environment
You may recall that we mentioned earlier that landfills are built to be airtight. In the absence of air and moisture, decomposition occurs at a much slower rate. And guess what gets released in the process?
According to the EPA, landfills are the third largest source of methane. Pound for pound, over a 100-year period, methane contributes 20 times more to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide. Some experts say that if plastic was able to degrade in landfills, the environmental impact could be quite problematic, contributing to unstable sub-soil conditions and storm-water pollution. Other biodegradable bags have also been reported to leave toxic residue after decomposition.
The Cat Is Out of The Biodegradable Plastic Bag
Biodegradable bags have their challenges, it’s true. But no product is perfect. Your heart tells you to save the environment. But your mind requires some convincing. And that’s with good reason. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself, so that you can be a smart steward of the environment. Know the difference between “biodegradable” and “compostable.” Visit findacomposter.com to see if there’s a commercial composting facility near you.
Then you and BaggerMaid can save the world—one biodegradable bag at a time.