With plastic alternatives such as carry bags and trash bags on the rise in popularity, different States in the USA and countries are setting in place laws to regulate and limit the use and disposal of items such as compostable or biodegradable bags.
The Texas City of Houston requires the use of certified and approved compostable bags for yard waste collection, which must be translucent and either BioBag® or WasteZero, however, a plastic bag ban in Loredo was overturned in 2019 as it was seen by the Supreme Court to violate State law.
Houston Biodegradable Bag Ordinance
The City of Houston encourages composting through the collection of yard waste in compostable plastic bags, however, plastic and biodegradable bags are not accepted in the compost collection. Residents are required to use approved compostable bags for weekly collection of yard and grass waste to divert the valuable organic materials away from landfill and into compost.
It’s estimated that this program diverts around 10,000 to 15,000 tons of yard waste per year. Waste must be placed into an approved, translucent compostable bag and left on the curb on your regular garbage collection day. This compost is then diverted from landfill into compost.
The City of Houston has two bags approved for use in this program, BioBag® USA and Waste Zero which are easily available for purchase and the City also supplies a map in the area to show residents where to purchase these items: https://www.houstontx.gov/solidwaste/compostablebags.html
The City is partial to these translucent compostable bags as they make it easy for the workers to ensure the material collected is clean yard waste and not regular trash. Food scraps are currently collected separately to yard and grass waste.
What Are BioBag And WasteZero?
BioBag® is one of the larger manufacturers of bio-plastic bags in California, providing both compostable bags and films for organic waste collection.
These products are made from a resin derived from plants, vegetable oils and compostable polymers and are easily composted amongst microorganisms in soil, making them able to be placed with organic waste in home composters or at industrial composting facilities.
WasteZero is a company providing compostable plastic products and servicing communities with recycling programs, waste collection and upcycling to reduce waste and save money. WasteZero has partnered with hundreds of communities over the past 25 years. They estimate a reduction in landfill waste by more than 6.7 million tons and a saving of more than $1.6 billion thus far.
These bags are available to purchase in most retail stores or online in Texas and are approved due to their ability to be broken down completely into natural matter in home composters, worm farms and industrial composting facilities.
What Are Biodegradable And Compostable Plastics?
There are many ‘bio-plastics’ 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.
Biodegradable plastics are manufactured to break down to their natural components over time. They are created through a mix of organic and chemical compounds, with added microbes engineered to attract the right microbes to decompose quickly.
Compostable plastics 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.
When disposed of correctly, both 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.
What Are Benefits Of Biodegradable And Compostable Plastic?
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.
Some benefits of biodegradable plastic bags include:
- They 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).
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.
Some benefits of compostable plastic bags 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 the difference between bio-plastics in this article.
Plastic Bag Law Overturned
In 2019, the State Supreme Court overturned a plastic bag ban in Laredo on single-use plastic bags previously approved in 2021 in Austin City. A 2015 study showed a reduction of 75 per cent in the number of plastic bags making it to the waste facilities.
Unfortunately, it was found later that such a bag ban violated state laws and so the ban was overruled, meaning that single-use plastic bags were once again able to be used in the city. If you’re living in Texas, consider how you can avoid the use of single-use plastic bags.
You can choose to use biodegradable, compostable or reusable bags made from fabric. Oftentimes, fabric or woven bags are able to withstand hundreds or thousands of uses, be washed if spilled on and carried long distances without breaking.
Consider how you can reduce your environmental impact by carrying some reusable bags with you and saying ‘no’ to single-use plastics next time you’re at the store.
Benefits Of This Compostable Plastics Law
There are many benefits for states and countries who encourage composting and regulation of alternative plastics, the largest being the reduction of waste and the guidelines imposed on manufacturers.
Other benefits include:
- Encourages and educates residents on the benefits of composting
- Turns household waste into useful compost
- Provides additional compost for homes and large landscaping projects
- Increases jobs in rural areas through increased production of compostable plastics
- Raises awareness of the environmental impact of traditional plastic and landfill contributions
- Educates the general public on the different plastic alternatives available
- Provides standards for the manufacturing and disposal of such plastics
- Increases the availability of plastic alternatives by creating more demand in the market.
Texan residents are also able to compost easily with a weekly collection from the State of their compostable items. Each area will explain what you can compost, which cart they go in and when the collection is. For example, here is Houston’s composting information: https://www.houstontx.gov/solidwaste/compostablebags.html
Ways To Follow The Law
If you’re living in Texas, the best ways to ensure you’re following the law is to understand the using and purchasing WasteZero and BioBag®, dispose of your plastic alternatives correctly and ensure you only purchase products with the above certifications.
It’s also useful to understand where you can and will dispose of your plastic alternatives such as:
- Home composter or worm farm
- Industrial composting facility
- Leaving out for collection for composting in your bin.
In many areas of Texas, you can place your food scraps, grass and yard waste and compostable plastics into the composting cart or on the curb. Yard and grass waste is left on your curb each week in the translucent bags for collection which is then processed through a composting facility. Food scraps are currently collected separately.
Read more about other States and their differing regulations in this blog about New York’s composting rules.
As with all States and countries, Texas has its own rules when it comes to compostable and biodegradable plastic usage. It’s important to understand your choices and how you will dispose of different plastic alternatives before deciding which you will choose.
In Texas, you are encouraged to utilise BioBag and WasteZero translucent compostable trash bags to place your yard waste into prior to placing out for collection on your curb.
Single-use plastic bags aren’t banned but you should consider using your own reusable bags or compostable where possible to reduce your own environmental impact. Fabric bags are also a great option as they are easily washable, reusable and generally strong.
To learn more about composting in your area, contact your local waste department and understand where and how you can dispose of compostable or biodegradable plastics. If you want to reduce your environmental footprint, composting could be a great option for you.
Consider if you can compost at home or increase the items you compost via the City’s collection.