Compostable, biodegradable and degradable bags and bin liners are becoming more and more popular. But what do these words actually mean when it comes to the materials these bags are made of? Which one is more favourable to use? And are they actually any better than standard plastic bags?
We're helping to answer your questions so that you can make a more informed choice and ensure that your good intentions aren't going to waste.
What are 'Degradable' bags made from?
Degradable bags are unfortunately still made with plastic. According to EastWaste, these types of bags contain chemicals "that cause the plastic to break down and disintegrate over time when exposed to sunlight and heat".
Now, this may sound great for the environment because we want plastic to degrade, right?
Wrong. Degraded plastic becomes microplastic which animals then eat, it also ends up in soil, waterways etc, which is not an ideal situation at all. In fact, these bags are actually WORSE than your standard plastic bag! (Insert shocked face emoji here!).
This is what we would call an absolute marketing disaster because people buy these bags thinking that they're helping the environment, I know because I used to be one of these people several years ago!
What are Biodegradable bags made from?
Biodegradable bags are a little different to degradable bags, but not much different unfortunately. Again, another item that is wrongly advertised to lure people in and make them think they are buying a product to help the environment, when it's doing anything but that.
These bags are usually still made from plastic. The term 'biodegradable' can be used willy nilly by manufacturers which means we don't really know if what we're purchasing is a genuine product not made from plastic that will biodegrade and do little harm to the environment, or whether it does in fact contain plastic still and will either breakdown into microplastics or remain whole and potentially 'biodegrade' one day.
According to the ACCC, "no single understanding of or definition
for ‘biodegradable’ exists". So although manufacturers have to adhere to advertising rules in terms of what they're claiming the product can do, it still doesn't mean that what the product can do, is what we would like from a sustainability point of view.
On the Australian Government Department of the Environment website, in an article called Biodegradable Plastics - Developments and Environmental Impacts, I found the following information to help with the different types of biodegradable bags available, "Natural biodegradable plastics are based primarily on renewable resources (such as starch) and can be either naturally produced or synthesised from renewable resources. Non-renewable synthetic biodegradable plastics are petroleum-based. As any marketable plastic product must meet the performance requirements of its intended function, many natural biodegradable plastics are blended with synthetic polymers to produce plastics which meet these functional requirements".
Interesting hey. So from this, we gathered that some bags marketed as biodegradable are similar to degradable bags, yet some are potentially like compostable bags, the only way to truly know would be to contact the manufacturer to find out what type of components make up their bags.
What are Compostable bags made from?
Compostable bags are made from plant materials, such as starch from corn, and must meet strict guidelines to be classified as compostable.
Under compost conditions, these bags will completely breakdown in approx 1-6 months. These bags will also breakdown in landfill, it just takes a bit longer than when they're composted.
The difference with these bags compared to the other two bags is that when they breakdown, their impact on the environment is much less. Compostable bags still need to contain some fillers and plasticisers to make them flexible and usable as bags, and depending on the business making them, one would think if someone is wanting to go this extra mile to make a bag that is better for the environment, that they would use the types of fillers and plasticisers that cause as least impact as possible. But like biodegradable bags, compostable bags are not all made the same, and although they are a much better alternative to degradable and biodegradable bags, we're not going to pull the wool over your eyes and tell you they're not causing ANY impact whatsoever, and just how much impact really depends again on the brand/manufacturer.
What is the ideal bag to choose?
Compostable all the way baby.
As we said, there is still some impact on the environment with compostable bags, however, with any man made item, there always will be.
What we want you to take away from this is that there are some things we need man made products for, and in these cases, it's good to know that there are options out there that help us have as little impact on the environment as we can.
If you still use products that aren't the best sustainability-wise, do some research and see what alternatives are out there, inform and educate yourself, get excited about the choices you get to freely make, have fun experimenting with alternatives, and if in doubt, you know you can always contact us by email firstname.lastname@example.org or on the phone 0400088834 so we can help.