Supermarkets distributes biodegradable plastic bags telling you to reuse the bags and you feel really good reusing them for trash. Or you choose to buy biodegradable trash bags rather than normal trash bags? Who doesn’t want to help the environment, right?
Biodegradeable plastics cannot biodegrade if they are buried in the landfill or left in the sea.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires landfills to block out air, moisture and sunlight which are the crucial elements for proper biodegradation.
According to Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme, who told the Guardian that these biodegradable plastics were not a simple solution in the sea too.
“It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean nor landfill. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down,” she said.
There has been a lot of confusion surrounding these ecofriendlier plastics — some of it intentional. “This word ‘biodegradable’ has become very attractive to people trying to make quick bucks on it,” explains Ramani Narayan, a professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at Michigan State University, who helped develop biodegradable corn-based plastic. Some companies, he says, are making conventional plastic that degrades quickly and then throwing around claims about biodegradability that are unproven or just too good to be true.
That means that if your bag is like most “biodegradable” bags, after filling them with trash, tied them up throw them away, picked up by the sanitary workers and trucks, transported to the landfill, buried in the landfill, will stay as the plastics bags you see and changes NOTHING.
And while some companies thought having a biodegradable additive (a special film) on their biodegradable bags that lets them decompose completely, that claim has been challenged in court and still lacks consensus.