With the rising interest in switching to non-plastic alternatives such as biodegradable and compostable. People are concerned about just how strong these bags are when compared to traditional plastic. The concern being that these bags won’t last as long as normal plastic.
Biodegradable and compostable plastic bags are a great alternative to traditional plastic bags, however, they’re not as strong or durable as traditional plastic. They cannot often be used as many times, for as heavy a weight or for as long a distance as a traditional plastic carry bag. They can also degrade over time if stored for too long or incorrectly.
What Is Compostable?
Compostable plastic is classed as a bioplastic and is made from 100 per cent natural ingredients. It’s a great alternative to traditional plastic, particular when it comes to single-use plastic carry bags. The environmental impact of traditional plastic is creating havoc for our environment and wildlife.
A next-generation plastic, compostable plastic is renewable and will completely break down into natural matter when disposed of correctly. The materials used to create compostable plastic will vary but they are typically made from renewable items such as potato, corn, soy protein, cellulose and tapioca starches.
These natural ingredients also mean that compostable plastics are non-toxic and will decompose in a worm farm or composter (home or industrial). This is great news for the environment, wildlife and landfill contributions (zero!)
It’s worth looking into your compostable plastic options as many companies are now offering compostable plastic alternatives at good prices. These can be found online and in many stores. Consider where you can make some small changes in your everyday life away from traditional plastic.
Read more about the benefits of composting in this blog.
What Is Biodegradable?
Biodegradable plastic is made from a mix of traditional plastic and renewable materials with the addition of specially designed microbes that cause the plastic to break down in months rather than centuries or longer. Biodegradable plastic is also often known as ‘bio-based’ plastic as it still contains some toxic chemicals, unlike compostable plastic.
Biodegradable plastic is often made by extracting the sugar from plants like corn and sugarcane. These are then converted into polylactic acids. Another way to make biodegradable plastic is to engineer it from microorganisms which are made to break down the plastic quicker.
Unfortunately, biodegradable plastics still include toxic chemicals similar to conventional plastic, which can leave toxic sludge behind when decomposing. This type of plastic is made from materials such as the sugar from corn and sugarcane or other vegetable starches which are converted into polylactic acids.
Read more about biodegradable and other plastic alternatives here.
The Benefits Of Plastic Alternatives
The biggest benefit of using a plastic alternative for your plastic bags is reducing your environmental footprint. A typical plastic bag can take centuries to thousands of years to break down in landfill and so biodegradable or compostable plastic reduces this time vastly.
There are also less traditional plastic chemicals in biodegradable plastics which means less environmental issues in the future such as pollution, toxicity and methane production in landfill. The manufacturing process is also more environmentally friendly than traditional plastic manufacturing.
Some benefits of biodegradable plastic:
- It will break down more rapidly in a landfill environment – in months or a year rather than thousands of years.
- Some ingredients are bio-based and will break down into their natural state.
- They can be disposed of easily in landfill with the rest of your household garbage.
- You can dispose of it easily in a public garbage bin or your home bin.
- Safe for humans, wildlife, animals and the environment (mostly).
- Less greenhouse emissions released during manufacturing.
- Less electricity and water used during manufacturing.
It should be noted that biodegradable plastic can leave behind some toxic residue when breaking down, due to the plastic components still present in the plastic.
Read more about the difference between compostable and biodegradable plastics here.
Benefits of compostable plastic use:
Obviously the biggest benefit of compostable plastic is its ability to completely break down into natural components, rapidly speeding up the decomposition process to as little as 90 days in some cases.
Other benefits include:
- Reduces contributions to landfill.
- Does not leach or leave behind toxic chemicals.
- Less greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing.
- Lower water and energy consumption during manufacturing.
- Safe for humans, animals, wildlife and the environment.
- Provide great fertilizer when composted correctly.
Read more about composting in this article.
The Strength Of Plastic Alternatives
For those wanting to switch to bioplastics such as compostable and biodegradable plastic and reduce their environmental footprint, quality and strength can play a key role in the decision. Compostable trash bags are made from natural components, meaning sometimes they will break a little easier than traditional plastic, but many of the causes can be avoided.
Biodegradable has some traditional plastic chemicals yet also has natural components, making the strength similar to compostable yet a little stronger.
Compostable or biodegradable trash bags can leak easier than traditional plastic due to rips or tears caused by sharp fingernails, being in a trash bin with rubbish inside for too long (weakening the bag), sitting on a shelf or in storage too long, tearing above the perforation or just simply because they are too thin for the usage.
Bioplastic plastic bags are great for the environment, but the natural materials that make up these items such as trash bags can make them less resilient than traditional plastics. This is ok, presuming you know how to take care of these plastics.
Compostable or biodegradable plastic bags can leak for several reasons:
- Sharp fingernails
- Too thin
- Tear at the perforation
- 100% Compostable
- Too long in the trash bin
- Has been on the shelf for too long.
It’s important that you take care of your alternative plastic bags and avoid the above where possible to maximize the usefulness of the products. Use them quickly, beware of sharp objects or nails, be mindful when tearing a new bag and ensure you compost them correctly.
Read more about the reasons alternative plastics can break here.
Why Switch From Traditional Plastic Bags?
Traditional plastic – such as you’ll see in everything from food packaging, carry bags and trash bags to toys and building products – contributes negatively to our environment in many ways,
Traditional plastic contributes to many environmental issues such as:
- Landfill contributions.
- Toxic leaching into the environment (soil, water).
- Can be toxic for wildlife, animals and humans (at some levels, depending on the plastic).
- Uses raw materials such as crude oil which are not good for the environment.
- Use higher levels of energy and water for manufacturing.
- Releases greenhouse emissions into the environment during manufacturing.
Most of our traditional plastics can’t be recycled and contribute to not only landfill but are toxic for wildlife and soil. Plastic can take decades, centuries or even thousands of years to break down.
Read more about the different types of plastics in this blog.
Five Steps To Switch To Bioplastics
When it comes to biodegradable plastics, understand which items are biodegradable, where to purchase them and how to best dispose of it. For compostable, understand the certifications, how to dispose of and your options.
Anyone can choose to switch to bioplastics, it just takes some research, understanding and preparation on your path as well as dedication.
Remember, you can switch to alternative, bioplastics with these five steps:
- Understand the different plastic alternatives – biodegradable and compostable are two easily available options that can replace many items.
- Identify which plastics you can replace – this could be your shopping carry bags, trash bags, dog poo bags, food and drink containers and disposable cutlery.
- Buy biodegradable or compostable plastics – you can find these in many standard grocery stores as well as online.
- Encourage your family or business to go biodegradable – share the benefits and the cost of biodegradable plastics with those close to you.
- Ensure you dispose of correctly in your normal waste – don’t try to dispose of biodegradable plastics in a composter or worm farm but dispose of in your normal waste OR follow your city’s guidelines. Dispose of compostable plastic ONLY in a composter or worm farm.
So you’re interested in switching to plastic alternatives such as compostable or biodegradable? Well you’re on the right path by visiting this blog! Although biodegradable and compostable plastic bags offer a great alternative to traditional plastic, they may not be as strong.
Traditional plastic bags can be used multiple times, carried longer distances and handle heavier weights, however, the natural components making up plastic alternatives often won’t allow for the same durability as these bags.
Understand the benefits, limitations and the disposal methods of such bags before choosing to purchase them. This will ensure that you are reducing your environmental footprint as desired. For example, don’t dispose of biodegradable plastic in a composter or worm farm, and don’t dispose of compostable plastic in landfill or the environment.