With the awareness of landfill and the toxicity of plastic becoming higher around the globe, many people are wondering if there are alternatives to using plastic bags in their home.
You can easily stop using plastic bags at home by choosing alternatives such as compostable, biodegradable or even reusable. Depending on the usage, you can find many of these options available for items such as carry bags, trash bags, dog poop bags and others.
Why Do We Use Plastic?
Plastic is something that is around us everyday, essentially everywhere we go. It’s used for everything from pillow filling and manufacturing to insulation and food or drink containers. It was created in the 1800s as an alternative to animal products for combs, medallions, cutlery and other items around the home.
Plastic is used in so many different areas of life, it’s not possible as yet to completely get rid of it. The substance is relied upon by so many industries and people that it can be found everywhere you turn. As a cheap alternative, plastic is easy to manufacture, mass produce and use.
It’s also hardy enough for uses such as carry bags, food or drink containers, medical devices and building supplies. This makes finding alternatives difficult and more expensive, even if they’re better for the environment.
You can find out more about the origins of plastic in this blog.
Are There Alternatives To Plastic?
With interest rising in consumers looking to find an alternative to plastic, ‘bioplastics’ are becoming more and more popular. Of course, there are not enough items made to replace all plastics but there are some great alternatives to lower your personal landfill contributions.
Bioplastics are classed as a range of plastic alternatives made from renewable sources such as organic materials. These plastics are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than traditional plastics. They are currently more expensive to manufacture as they aren’t as widely used as traditional plastic yet.
Bioplastics are considered safer for the environment from their manufacturing process which uses less resources and produces lower emissions, through to their ability to be disposed of and return to natural matter.
These plastics are made from renewable materials such as corn starch, tapioca starch and others. This means that when they are disposed of correctly, they reduce waste. They are able to be either quickly broken down (when it comes to landfill disposal) or composted back into the earth.
We can class compostable, PLA (polylactic acid) and biodegradable as the top three bioplastics on the market.
What Are Biodegradable And Compostable Plastics?
There are many ‘bioplastics’ emerging into the market, and there are several key differences between the popular biodegradable and compostable items, from material make up to decomposition and the environment in which they can break down.
To look at biodegradable, they are manufactured to break down to their natural components over time. They are manufactured with a mix of organic and chemical compounds, with added microbes engineered to attract the right microbes to decompose quickly.
Compostable plastics, however, are 100 per cent natural and are made to return to the environment when they break down and also to provide nutrients to that environment. These are made from organic materials and able to be decomposed quickly with a home or industrial composter.
What Is PLA?
Polylactic acid or PLA is perhaps the most popular bioplastic currently on the market, due to its ability to be used widely as a plastic alternative. PLA is typically made from fermented food starch often from corn, sugarcane, sugar beet pulp or cassava and combined with lactic acid and cyclic di-ester lactide.
This makeup of organic materials results in a compostable, renewable, sustainable and ethical plastic product. So we can call PLA compostable plastic. Contrary to thermoplastics (a lot of your typical plastics) which are petroleum-based, PLA is produced from raw materials. However, this doesn’t impact its main properties which are comparable to other plastics, making them rapidly popular for mindful consumers.
PLA is used for cold food service items such as cups, salad containers, deli posts, lids, bags (such as trash bags) and clear windows in sandwich boxes or bags and is transparent. PLA is also recognized as non-toxic which allows it to be utilized in medical environments such as medical implants, orthopedic devices and drug delivery systems.
What Is CPLA?
In the same family as PLA is crystallized PLA. This form of PLA is heat resistant and useful for food service items such as cutlery, takeaway food containers, coffee cup lids and soup containers. It is not transparent but often seen as white unless charcoal is added to create a black color.
You can read more about PLA and CPLA in this article.
Why Use Plastic Alternatives?
Being manufactured from raw materials means that PLA and other compostable materials can be composted either in a home composter or industrial composting facility and returned to its natural form. The manufacturing process is overall more sustainable and environmentally friendly than that of traditional plastics as no toxic fumes are released and it uses less electricity and water.
When disposed of correctly, all three options – compostable, PLA and biodegradable – can take centuries off the time it takes traditional plastic to break down. However, biodegradable plastics can leave behind toxic chemicals when decomposing and compostable plastics do not.
On the other hand, if you don’t dispose of compostable plastic correctly and drop it in landfill, it will take a long time to decompose like traditional plastic. There are biodegradable plastics that, unlike, compostable, are able to decompose quickly in landfill environments.
Read more about compostable plastic alternatives in this article.
Why Can’t We Stop Using Plastics If There Are Alternatives?
Although there are plastic alternatives on the market that are growing in popularity and availability, it is currently not possible to ban plastic completely or stop using it. Until there are alternatives for everything from building supplies and medical implants to water bottles and toys, it’s not possible to ban plastic in its entirety.
These alternatives also need to be cost-effective for manufacturing and purchase as well as maintain the same, strong properties of traditional plastic. Plastic is used in so many different areas of life that it would take many decades or centuries to replace plastic with viable alternatives.
Other disadvantages can include:
- People will switch to alternatives that aren’t any better – for example, paper bags use large amounts of trees and energy to produce as a plastic alternative.
- Plastics aren’t the biggest issue with pollution – solvents and cleaning chemicals also pose a great risk to the ocean and environment.
- Switching from plastics may encourage people to be less eco-minded in other choices. For example, they have recycled or used compostable plastics so don’t consider which cleaning chemicals or how much meat they purchase.
- Weaker or less resilient alternatives in important items – compostable and biodegradable are often a bit weaker, with bags ripping easier or not holding liquid. For important items such as packaging, medical supplies or implants, this could pose an issue.
What Are Some Steps To Stop Using Plastic?
There are some steps you can take at home or in your business to start making the switch to more environmentally friendly plastic alternatives. If you’re looking to make a change, here are five small steps you can take personally to lower your landfill contribution:
- 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 plastic alternatives that suit your lifestyle – you can find these in many standard grocery stores as well as online.
- Encourage your family or business to go compostable or biodegradable – share the benefits and the cost of these items with those close to you.
- Ensure you dispose of correctly in your normal waste – don’t try to dispose of biodegradable in a composter or worm farm OR compostable in normal trash.
What are the benefits of not using plastics
Of course, we can see the biggest benefit of using plastic alternatives as reducing your environmental footprint and contributing less issues in the manufacturing process. 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.
Read more about why we can’t ban plastic here.
Some benefits of plastic alternatives:
- Biodegradable will break down more rapidly in a landfill environment – in months or a year rather than thousands of years.
- Compostable can return to a natural state when composted in a composter or worm farm.
- Safe for humans, wildlife, animals and the environment (mostly for biodegradable).
- 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.
It’s great that so many people are understanding the negatives of plastic for the environment and appreciating the alternatives available. You can take some steps at home or in your business to find alternatives for plastic such as biodegradable and compostable.
With some simple steps, you can reduce our environmental footprint, and if you compost, you can also contribute to some nutrient-rich soil! Look at the ways in your home that you can replace plastic. This could be with trash bags, pet poop bags, carry bags or even storage bags.
Unfortunately, plastic is something that is around us everyday, essentially everywhere we go. And so, since the 1800s, we’ve relied on plastic so much that it’s currently not possible to completely replace our plastic use.