Mexico City Bans non-biodegradable Plastic Bags

February 23, 2010

in eco-friendly packaging,Packaging,President's Notes,recycled plastic bags,recycling,sustainability

Last August (2009), all plastic shopping bags were officially banned in Mexico City which are not “bio-degradable”, making it the second largest metropolitan area to ban plastic bags.

To think that a biodegradable bag can be tossed out the window and then dissolve into inert components is pure myth…

Biodegradable plastic bags are “compostable”, and then only when composted under controlled conditions such as a municipal composting facility.

What we need is a change of habits, not bags….

Says Beatriz Bugeda, “I think the challenge is convincing citizens to change their habits. We have to go back to our grandmothers’ habits.”*

Matt Kistler, senior vice president for sustainability at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. echoed what Bugeda said about changing people’s behavior. “If we can encourage consumers to change their behavior, just one bag at a time, we believe real progress can be made toward our goal of creating zero waste,” he said.

Zero waste is not as hard as it sounds.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC) encourages recycling plastic bags as it conserves energy by replacing the virgin material necessary to manufacture new products. In fact, it takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper, according to the ACC.

A slippery slope we go down is that biodegradable bags made from PLA (bags from corn and sugar bearing plants) are NOT recyclable and will not mix into recycling batches with conventional Polyethylene (HDPE) plastic bags. They are “Compostable” and that is a critical distinction. Composting is a difficult and highly controlled process (see more below), but recycling conventional plastics is cheap, easy, and available.

The Federal Trade Commission has set guidelines about false claims in advertising, such as claiming a product is recyclable when in fact it is very difficult for the average person to do. Can we say a television is recyclable? We could if there were TV recycling centers in every community, but there are not. However, there are plastic bag recycling centers in nearly every community now. You find them at schools, businesses, churches, youth centers and at every Wal-Mart.

Are biodegradable bags really eco-friendly?
Mexico City’s ban only applies to non-biodegradable plastic bags. The European Recyclers Association warned in June that biodegradable plastic bags “have the potential to do more harm to the environment than good.” A study by the Biodegradable Products Institute found that the breakdown of bags depends on temperature and humidity. The bags break down more slowly in cold weather, and high humidity stops the process.

It is best if biodegradable bags are composted, because they may produce methane if sent to a landfill.  The Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association warns that biodegradable plastics should not be sent to landfills. We agree; they should be composted.

The plastic bag ban which started in San Francisco was similar, but San Francisco has a municipal composting facility. Composting on such a scale can only be done within a very controlled environment with an exacting series of temperature and humidity controls across the multiple stages of the composting process. It is not for everyone, and to think that any biodegradable bag can be tossed out the window and dissolve into inert components is pure myth.

What about additives to biodegrade conventional plastic bags?
Nashville Wraps has a solid commitment to the environment, to our customers and to the truth. Right now we do not know if biodegradable additives are practical because there has been no accepted environmental study for these products. However, we miss the main advantage of plastic bags if we try to dissolve them into some kind of sand and carbon dioxide. Recycling is the right answer because it is an effective, efficient and environmentally friendly process that is the banner for REDUCE – REUSE – RECYCLE.

Robby Meadows

Nashville Wraps

* My Grandmother (and in fact my mother) was queen of what we are missing in today’s world which is REDUCE – REUSE – RECYCLE. She did it as a lifestyle because she could not afford any other way. Something to think about.  – R. Meadows.

References:
Biodegradable Products Institute – Case Studies on Municipal Composting
Mexico City Requires Biodegradable Plastic Bags – Earth911.com
American Chemistry Council | Plasticbagfacts.org
FTC: Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Unrue February 23, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Robby.,

Great blog. My team here is right with you that sustainability is a very important part of our core compensenties. Metrics are still the crux of the entire cradle to cradle analysis.

Keep up the great communication.

Regards,

Paul Unrue

Becky February 25, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Im not sure if I like the regulation part, but I think its a great idea. I have been thinking about going more green with my cleaning business here in Nashville. I need to look into getting some more biodegradable products. Thanks!

Robby February 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm

The point of biodegradable plastic bags is moot unless they are composted in a controlled environment. The real solution is traditional polyethylene bags and recycling. It’s a closed loop, self-supporting, sustainable system.

Jenn April 6, 2010 at 9:39 am

This article threw me off a bit. I started it thinking it was an encouragement to change our habits by reducing our use of plastic bags. Then somewhere along the way it morphed into a argument for recycled bags over compostable bags. So the ‘change of behavior’ you are encouraging – is it remembering to recycle our plastics bags, as opposed to reducing the use of them?

I preferred the initial direction of the article. Let’s change our behavior toward REDUCING our need for bags, and to REUSING the bags we have, and then, if after those changes in habits, there are still bags, then we recycle.

Shefali June 21, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Great post–I think it is extremely unclear to consumers what products need to be commercially composted vs. what products can be composted in a home system. We definitely need to reduce our dependence on packaging but at the same time we need to make sure that consumers and businesses likewise are clear on the regulations in their city RE composting as well as understand the materials in the products they are buying.

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