There is some concern that the use of biodegradable additives to normally non-degradable plastic bags is sending the wrong message to the general public. One view is that since these plastics which are widely used in food and retail packaging are highly recyclable that recycling is where the main emphasis should be. Degradable additives are viewed by some to encourage rather than discourage society’s throw-away mentality.
Plastic bags, bottles and other containers are easy to recycle and have little environmental impact if they are properly recycled. We have said that the advantages of recyclable plastic bags far outweigh the disadvantages if they are indeed recycled. However, in the event that plastic packaging lands in the streets, woods, or streams, should it be allowed to degrade (like its paper counterparts)?
Do the additives cause problems when recycled?
I asked a trusted friend who has a plastic recycling operation. He says that the percentage of degradable additives in plastics is so small is does not adversly affect recycled plastic resin. Being in the business of selling biodegradable plastic, I had to ask, “What if all plastics were made with the additives?” He said in fact that almost all of his bags (and he makes bags for us, too) have oxo-degradable additives, and even so the bags recycle very well and the resins are reusable. The degradation process happens over time and only in conditions found outdoors and in landfills – not in a recycling bin or during the normal recycling process.
Would degradable additives be a good idea?
Recently I received an ad from a Chinese producer of woven PET and non-woven PP (fabric like) tote and grocery bags. The bags were advertised as “biodegradable.” Keeping in mind that out-of-country producers can say whatever they wish to about their proudcts, and the onus of finding out the facts falls on the buyer, I asked my friend about this.
I told him that I spent the weekend tearing up and refurbishing my mom’s garden. As early as 20 years ago, my dad put down the equivalent of non-woven PP (polypropylene) as a weed barrier. Over the years it got driven down into the soil. When I dug it up, other than being ripped to shreds from my bulldozer, it was not chemically broken down whatsoever. And by the way, I had to untangle all of it from the treads and bucket teeth each time I dug a batch up. I foresee the same thing happening with those grocery tote bags, but if they were “degradable” would it make a difference?
Just my opinion: My concern for the woven PET or non-woven PP bags is that they are practically indestructible. However, if an additive would make them degradable, would that be a good thing?
My friend’s answer got me back to ground zero again: He said the real solution is recycling and changing our society’s toss-away culture. “Those fabric-looking grocery bags lack serious infrastructure to be recycled,” he said. Maybe for the same reasons as what I found in the garden that they would wrap themselves around sorting equipment too? One thing is for sure: we do have an infrastructure to recycle and reuse polyethylene (PE) which are what most retail bags are made from today. T-Sacks and the like because almost all plastic bags, whatever their form, are recyclable… well except for the “reusable” non-woven ones.
One last thing I believe we need to clarify… The fabric-style bags you see at the grocery, the mall and many other places are either made from PP (polypropylene) or PET (polyethylene terephthalate). The point is they are plastics. Somehow many people are missing that.
What is your opinion? What do you feel is the best solution for retail bags?
Nashville Wraps carries recycled plastic bags with degradable additives, non-woven totes, PET bags made from recycled drink bottles, paper shopping bags and many other options. It is our intent to do the responsible thing, but also to offer our customer choices. We sell more paper bags than anything else by far, but the plastic bags made in the US from recycled materials are catching up. We are very proud that we can elevate the lowly plastic because it has receive so much undue criticism.