“Do you want a bag? We have them biodegradable! “
Biodegradable bag? Compostable? Recyclable? Or better yet, paper? Every time we find new concepts to improve or minimize the impact of single-use products, but are they really an option or is it a new greenwashing strategy? What is really the best option for the Earth? Too many options but no one has explained to us what is involved in choosing one or the other. From BCOME we explain the differences between them, so you can choose wisely. In this article we will talk about bags, but this information is applicable to any product.
Biodegradable plastic bag
A plastic that decomposes by biological action means that organisms such as plants, animals, microorganisms or fungi break down or decompose the macromolecules (long chain molecules) of the material in their simplest form. The decomposition ends with the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and/or methane (CH4).
The degradation time depends on the conditions of temperature, sunlight, organisms present and complexity of the material’s molecules.
Material used to make compost: it degrades at the same rate as the rest of the organic matter with which it is in contact, without leaving any toxins behind. A material can be biodegradable but not compostable (for example, it can take 10 000 years to biodegrade); but a compostable material is always biodegradable. It must bear a certified stamp of its compostable character: OK Compost, but it only guarantees that the material can be used as compost in an industrial composting machine (where conditions are not the same as in the natural environment, e.g. temperatures of 50°C and above). These materials are recycled in the organic container.
Plastic that comes from natural sources. Its name indicates its origin and does not speak of its degradation characteristics. Depending on the natural resource used and the extraction technology, this option may imply a higher use than its renewal rate and therefore not be a sustainable option. The most widely used example in the industry is PLA (polylactic acid): this is a material that comes from corn, wheat or potato starch; and it takes 2-3 years to degrade (if it is a bag composed only of PLA, and not a mixture of different plastics; and under industrial conditions).
Product made of PET (conventional polyethylene, petroleum-based plastic), which takes more than 100 years to decompose, because it is not biodegradable. The seal (the 3 green arrows) indicates that it is a material that can be recycled (ie, the technology is known and there are plants that make this process), but the reality is that most of this type of waste ends up in landfill or energy recovery (incinerated to generate electricity), and end up being of a single use. The reason is the inadequate separation of waste by consumers, and the lack of market for recycled plastic by the industry.
It is associated with a lower environmental impact than plastic, especially in the management of the waste generated; and it takes approximately 1 year to degrade. Even so, an increase in paper consumption would imply a higher speed of deforestation than the current one. Forests are carbon sinks (absorbing CO2 through photosynthesis), protect biodiversity, and are essential in any terrestrial ecosystem.
So, what’s the best option?
The best option is unpackaged and reusable products brought from home. Any degradable option usually requires temperature conditions not found in nature, and even less so in the sea (where most plastics end up), and involves energy investment for proper management. Moreover, the intensive use of any resource is not sustainable: the only real solution is to stop the system of consumption of use and disposal.
Recycling is not an appropriate solution either: the reality is that less than 50% of plastic packaging is recycled in Spain today. Therefore, let’s make use of the three R’s, but especially let’s reduce and reuse, and let’s leave recycling for all those wastes that we have been unable to eliminate.
From now on, every time you are asked if you want a single-use product, try to ask yourself What impact does the manufacturing process have on the products we use? Do we give them a proportional use? Do I really need it?
Being aware of where the products we consume come from is the first step.
- Analizamos todas las bolsas del mercado – GreenPeace https://es.greenpeace.org/es/noticias/analizamos-todas-las-bolsas-del-mercado-y-te-decimos-cual-es-la-mejor-para-no-usar-de-plastico/
- Tipos de bolsa – Compostadores http://www.compostadores.com/descubre-el-compostaje/la-sostenibilidad-del-compostaje/194-bolsas-compostables-biodegradables-oxodegradables-fotodegradables-hidrosolubles-o-reciclables.html
- Todo lo que necesitas saber sobre los bioplásticos – National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.es/medio-ambiente/2018/11/todo-lo-que-necesitas-saber-sobre-los-bioplasticos