Globally, an insane 5 trillion plastic bags are produced every year. This equals 160,000 bags every single second!
Plastic bags are still ubiquitous. Between 2020 and 2021, big retailers in England alone, sold 294 million single use bags and this figure does not include plastic bags sold in small grocery shops or at fruit and vegetable markets.
A year earlier, 271 million bags were sold in England. The reasons for this increase are complex, with the pandemic playing a part.
The weight and convenience of plastic bags have helped make them hugely popular around the globe, but there are unforeseen consequences for the planet. In recent years, we have all become increasingly aware of the dark downside of plastic and the havoc it wreaks.
For this blog, we’ve investigated common alternatives to plastic bags and explored why ‘bioplastic’ isn’t necessarily eco-friendly.
Degradable, Biodegradable & Compostable – Confused? Then read on….
Types of carrier bags currently available include degradable, biodegradable and compostable. Are the differences between them significant or are they equally bad for the environment?
Degradable bags are certainly the worst of those three options. These bags are made of plastic usually polyethylene or polypropylene. The core components are mixed with certain other chemicals including, harmful heavy metals. They disintegrate over time when exposed to sunlight and heat, breaking down into small and smaller fragments. It is highly problematic, when these plastic particles enter the environment or animals ingest them.
Biodegradable bags eventually fall apart sooner or later. These bags can have microorganism added in order to break down the material and speed up fragmentation. The whole process of disintegration takes between three to six months. Unfortunately, biodegradable bags do not live up to their name.
It’s time to end green–washing and the biodegradability myth! So called ‘biodegradable’ bags leave behind harmful micro-plastics and a toxic residue that can lead to contamination as well as serious health issues and environmental problems.
Compostable bags could be considered an eco-conscious subtype of biodegradable bags, which can disintegrate naturally into water, carbon dioxide and biomass. These bags are made of natural plant starch and renewable material, such as corn, potato, and tapioca starches, or else cellulose, soy protein and lactic acid. They are non-toxic and are said to vanish within approximately 12 weeks. All nutrients can be fully absorbed by the surrounding.
It is essential to distinguish between these three types of bags, and ultimately avoid leaving a biodegradable or degradable bag on our home compost.
Recent Plastic Bag Research
Plymouth University researchers Imogen Napper and Richard Thompson studied the degradation of a range of biodegradable and compostable bags over the course of three years. They exposed the material to three different conditions: open air, buried in soil, and submerged in the marine environment.
The results were astonishing: While the compostable bag vanished within three months when placed in seawater, it was still present after 27 months when left buried in soil, though it was already in a fragile condition. In the open air, all bags had turned into small pieces after a period of nine months. A biodegradable bag that was submerged in seawater could still hold the weight of several grocery products when it was retrieved after three years!
Here at the GreenSeas Trust, we pride ourselves in carrying around eco-friendly tote bags whenever we go shopping. Those bags come in all shapes and forms, and you can even colour coordinate them with your outfits! More importantly, by bringing a re-usable bag, you avoid plastic bags and make a visible statement that will encourage others to follow your example.
Victory over plastic pollution is not (yet) in the bag, but we can all do our part to change that!