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.
* 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.
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