I am young enough to remember plastic bags forever. There was no life without it for me. However, I remember that it was not everywhere. My father usually went to the grocery store once per week and he never brought bags. He put the grocery stuffs in big paper box which he usually carried with him in his car. My mum was using a reusable bag. We had always 10 plastic bags at home, but not more. We just saved them so we could use them for travelling or anything else.
But slowly that changed. We got all the vegetables and fruits in separate bags and we got free bags for every shop. It was too many of these bags and we started to throw it away.
For some people that was the alarming point. People became aware of long – lived petroleum plastic bags as they have seen it along the roadsides and in our lakes and oceans as well its impact on the environment. And so, the plastic industry very smartly came across with the biodegradable plastic bags. By making products biodegradable, people start to think that it is “okay” to throw these plastic bags away.
Garbage on the road.— Photos: H. Vibhu (www.thehindu.com)
Littering is an act of irresponsible behaviour and responsible companies as well individuals should focus on changing people′s attitudes rather than by changing products which they throw away. It seems like biodegradable products made the problem of littering worse.
What are biodegradable plastic bags? These bags are made of plastic which can be broken down by microorganisms (bacteria or fungi) into water, carbon dioxide and some bio-material. It only needs a cheap and environmentally friendly way to dispose plastic bags after it has fulfilled its job.
Image from mhsgroup.org
The truth is a little bit different. A biodegradable plastic bag that is thrown into a bush will still take many years to disappear. What is more important is that this biodegradable plastic needs specific conditions (high temperature) to degrade properly. Unfortunately the production of new bags is so cheap, that companies rather produce new ones instead of providing a proper degradation process. If it is not managed properly, it can have more harmful effect to the environment than the usual plastic bags! First of all, while it is breaking down, it produces harmful greenhouse gasses – names of gases? Many biodegradable bags are actually “fake” and it usually does not decay completely. Next, small broken pieces mostly find its home in the oceans or soil where it can further develop into the pellets. These micro pieces “settle down” in the animal’s body and slowly it comes back to us through food chain.
What goes around comes back around.
In a nutshell, it is a huge mistake making these products easier to throw away and believing that this is the way to save the environment. It is a simple green washing.
Katja Polc, member of Vatavaran team