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What is biodegradable packaging?
Biodegradable packing, often referred to eco-friendly or green packaging, is packaging made from natural products, such as paper or starch, that can be broken down naturally by living microorganisms, such as bacteria or funghi. Over time, biodegradable material is converted into biomass, carbon dioxide and water.
Most plastic packaging is degradable. This means its constituent molecules will break down over time into smaller molecules as it is exposed to oxygen. The process is initiated by exposure to moisture, heat and/or UV light.
If you dispose of two carrier bags simultaneously - one biodegradable and the other degradable - both products will break down over time into biomass, carbon dioxide and water, but this process will be significantly faster with the biodegradable bag, for which the process takes a few months rather than many years for the standard degradable bag.
Eco-friendly bags - the breakdown
Eco-friendly bags are designed to provide all the usefulness of the average plastic carrier bag whilst doing less damage to the environment. Although most plastic bags are made with largely recycled materials these days, the polymers that they are made from, such as polythene and polypropene do not get broken down by microorganisms.
This means that, when they are finished with, if they are not recycled - many polymers can be recycled, although they must first be separated which is time-consuming and expensive - plastic bags must be either burned - which produces carbon dioxide - or thrown away, which means they end up in a landfill site, where they can stay for years.
It is undeniable that plastic bags contribute to landfill sites around the world as many of them are not recycled but simply thrown out. This is a sign of the ‘disposable culture’ that has developed in the western world in recent decades and is a driving force behind the emergence of eco-friendly alternatives to traditional packaging.
What are eco-friendly bags?
Eco-friendly bags - sometimes know as ‘eco bags’ or ‘green bags’ - are made from biodegradable polymers.
Biodegradable polymers can be created by adding certain chemicals to traditional polymers and have been in use for a number of years. Used in eco-friendly bags, these polymers can be broken down by microorganisms, thus lessening the impact on landfill sites around the world.
Biodegradable bags are available for all kinds of bag types, including bin liners, kitchen waste bags, refuse bags and, of course, carrier bags.
What are eco-friendly bags made from?
Eco-friendly bags are created using a range of biodegradable plastics (polymers), including the following:
Starch-based polymers - made from renewable resources with a high level of starch content (at least 90%), such as corn, wheat or potato.
Bacteria-based polymers (Polyesters) - made from hydrocarbons (gas or oil), using bacteria as an extra treatment to create a different kind of biodegradable polymer.
Starch or Polyester blends - a blend of the two polymers listed above.
Oxo-biodegradable polymers - incorporate a 'prodegradant' additive that accelerates the degradation process, started by heat, natural daylight or mechanical stress.
Photodegradable polymers - the action of ultraviolet (UV) light causes chemical degradation that breaks these polymers down. This process is accelerated if the polymer contains UV-sensitive additives
Water-soluble polymers - dissolve in water within a certain temperature range before biodegrading in contact with microorganisms
Where can I buy biodegradable packaging?
Manufacturers and suppliers of biodegradable packaging include:
Discount Degradable Bags
Discount Biodegradable Bags
Discount Biodegradable Bags
Biodegradable Bags 2U
Biodegradable Bags 2U
Research & Resources
For more information about biodegradable bags, including details of the manufacturing and the variety of eco-friendly bags available, please visit:
Goldstork: Free "best of the web" directory, where you will find carefully selected information and websites specialising in biodegradable bags.
PlasticBags.uk.com: Free online directory specialising in plastic packaging. Submit your product listings for free or browse for useful biodegradable bags websites.
PackagingKnowledge: Resource of news and in-depth information on the flexible plastic packaging industry, including this article on biodegradable bags.
A Bag for Life is for life, not just for Christmas
‘Bags for Life’ are reusable bags sold by supermarkets in a bid to reduce the number of carrier bags thrown away by their customers. Bags for Life are sold at the till for anything between 10p and £1, based on the fact that many customers will want to ‘do their bit’ for the environment and avoid using carrier bags.
But the carrier bag and food packaging in general may be mis-represented as the evil wrong-doers when it comes to waste produced by our trips to the supermarket.
As the government-funded Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) point out on their website: “Carrier bags represent less than 1% of household waste but they are considered by many to be a symbol of a ‘throwaway society’ and contribute to visible litter.”
They also point out that “29 million tonnes of household waste is generated in the UK every year, of which 4.9 million tonnes is packaging and 7.2 million tonnes is food waste.”
So it may be time to re-assess how we do our bit for the environment after a trip to the supermarket. The average UK household throws away £480 worth of food every, rising to £680 for a family with children (Source: lovefoodhatewaste.com), so maybe we should spend more time worrying about the reducing the amount of plastic we thrown away and spend more time thinking about the amount of food we throw away.
Particularly when many people’s contribution to reducing plastic waste is just buying a Bag for Life… and then forgetting to use it in that manner.
Come on, admit it... how many people possess a whole load of bags for life because they keep forgetting to re-use them and so buy another one?
A Bag for Life should be for life, not just for your conscience.