With the problem caused by plastic bags increasing each year, biodegradable plastic bags sound like the perfect solution. These bags are designed to completely decompose, leaving no discernible trace. However, is this really as good as it sounds?
One of the causes of environmental concern that affects us all is the use of plastic bags. Although plastic bags, such as plastic grocery bags, are used extensively around the world, they have a very real negative impact on the environment. Many plastic bags are not recycled and as such they end up in landfill sites where they use up precious space. Another way that plastic bags harm the environment is that they are light and easily get blown from bins into the wider environment. This means that they end up in the countryside, rivers, lakes and sea where they cause death and injury to thousands of animals and birds every year. One solution to this problem is to universally introduce biodegradable plastic bags. There is currently a debate, however, as to whether this in turn will introduce a new set of environmental problems.
What are Biodegradable Plastic Bags?
Biodegradable plastic bags are created using materials that will allow the bags to completely decompose after a period of time. Most biodegradable plastic bags are said to decompose in three years, although many completely disintegrate in less time. The bags leave no discernible trace and are completely harmless to the environment. Biodegradable plastic bags require two key elements in order to decompose. The bags need to be exposed to oxygen and light. Therefore, biodegradable plastic bags do not start to decompose from the date of manufacture, only after they have been exposed to light and air. Many retailers and businesses have embraced the use of biodegradable bags. While there are many real benefits, there are also a number of concerns that still need to be addressed.
Concerns About Biodegradable Bags
One of the key concerns about biodegradable bags is that, if they are not disposed of correctly, the decomposition action will not take place. Some biodegradable bags will not decompose if they are not exposed to light or oxygen which means they may not decompose in landfills. The atmospheric conditions may also impact the way a bag decomposes. There are also reports that some biodegradable bags do leave traces of metals and other minerals in the environment.
One of the key concerns, however, isn't so much about what a plastic bag is made of but rather the use of the bag itself. The one sure way to reduce the number of plastic bags that are used each year is to recycle plastic bags or use reusable alternatives. Many environmentalists argue that biodegradable bags are simply treating the symptoms of an illness and not the cause.
Alternatives to Plastic Bags
Biodegradable packaging and plastic bags obviously offer real benefits when compared to the non-biodegradable alternatives. There are other alternatives, however, which could be considered.
- Reduce the amount of bags used - refuse new plastic bags in stores. Reuse old plastic bags or invest in some fabric shopping bags.
- Reuse plastic bags - if you have to use plastic bags, reuse them in the home as a replacement for other plastic products. Plastic bags can be used as bin liners or as trash bags. Plastic bags can also be cut open and used as cat litter tray liners or for many other purposes.
- Make sure plastic bags are disposed of correctly - if you use biodegradable plastic bags, read the disposal instructions carefully to make sure that they are disposed of or recycled in the correct manner.
While the use of plastic bags is just one way that we have an impact on the environment, it is the one thing that we can all address with relative ease. Reusing plastic bags, refusing bags in stores or disposing of bags correctly is within the reach of everyone the world over. Every small step we take towards more environmentally friendly living will have far reaching benefits for this and future generations.