Plastic, like diamonds, is forever: time to use fewer bags

Posted on July 28, 2012 by DrRossH in Plastic Limiting Regulations

Plastic, like diamonds, is forever: time to use fewer bags.

Ban the bags.  It is that simple.  People will complain for a few months then find something else to occupy their thoughts while they carry their reusable bags to the store and back.   Why are we so afraid of change?  the plastic bag was an item invented a few decades ago and times have changed since then.  We are no longer in the 70 or 80s thinking resources are unlimited and waste is simpel ‘taken away’   We have more people, more waste and a lot more plastic bags.  If they we re charged for like they should be as they are not free, then people would complain for a few months again then forget about it and more on to something else.  But consumption would go down by about 90% based on what happens in other western locations.   This shows how quickly people realise these plastic bags are not necessary.  Plastic bags were made by an industry who generated the demand for their product by promoting free check out bags, and now people under 30 don’t know any but plastic bags.

Plastic bags are the number 1 item in a landfill.  They cause all sorts of headaches there.  From blowing around and blowing off site, to trip hazards.  When waste is thrown out, sealed in a bag, that waste is then sealed away from the decomposition activity in a landfill and it impedes the landfill from working as it was designed to do.  When recycle waste is put in a plastic bag and then dumped in the recycled bin, it contaminates the whole bin as the plastic bag is not recyclable in that bin. 

People say they reuse the bag as bin liner so that makes it OK.  That is a fallacy.   So instead of using a bag (that takes 100’s of years to biodegrade), for 30 minutes they now use it for a couple of days.   That is still nothing in the time line of the bag.  If they want plastic bags as bin liners then go buy some bigger and landfill-biodegradable bags.  So instead of 10 grocery store bags, you will use maybe 2 and they will biodegrade away in a few years.

When looking at biodegradable bags, be careful as there are a number of technologies available that are not really biodegradable when their details are revealed.  There is a lot of green washing by these people to make their plastic bags sound as though they are biodegradable.   For examples

1)      Plastic made from plants or bioplastics are not biodegradable.  Often it is the same plastic molecule they extract from oil so the plastic has no different behaviour.

2)      Compostable plastic will not biodegrade in a landfill.  It will only biodegrade in a commercial compost facility and if they take it.   Does any one know were a commercial compost facility is?  If you do are you going to drive many kms across town to drop off a few bags there?
Compostable plastic is not recyclable and has to go to trash for kerbside collection.  Once in the trash it will not biodegrade

3)      Some people offer degradable bags and sort of hint at biodegradation or even boldly state it.  If the bag is degradable it means it is made from an oxodegradable additive added to the plastic.  Oxo degradable means the plastic breaks down into small fragments of plastic and this is worse for the environment.  Oxo plastics need oxygen and often sunlight to work.   Which means they will not fragment in a landfill but last as many 100 of years as a normal bag.  They are not recyclable either so have to go to trash which means to a landfill where they will not biodegrade.

4)      A more recent technology is landfill biodegradable plastic.   Again this is an additive added to conventional plastic to make it susceptible to digestion by microorganisms in a landfill.  Sice almost all of our plastic bag waste goes to a landfill, this type of additive is the only type that will cause all these bags to biodegrade there.  

5)      So when you go to buy a green plastic bag, if says compostable or degradable, you know it will not biodegrade in landfill and the manufactures of these bags are trying to con you.  If it says landfill-biodegradable or will biodegrade according to ATM D5511 you can feel confident that the bag will actually biodegrade when disposed to a landfill.