The main reason why Biodegradable bags are in use is that they are supposed to decompose fast, unlike plastic bags. Imagine the surprise when a bag dumped for 3 years is still able to generate near full use. Apparently, researchers at the University of Plymouth are of the opinion that the idea of biodegradable bags decomposing after one usage is a myth.
The paper was published in Environmental Science and Technology Sunday, which discussed how biodegradable bags were still capable of carrying grocery items up to a definite weight, even after being submerged underwater, or buried in the ground for over 3 years.
Lead researched Imogen Napper was shocked that a biodegradable bag could do so much after being subjected to those environmental conditions.
“After three years, I was really amazed that any of the bags could still hold a load of shopping. For a biodegradable bag to be able to do that was the most surprising.”@PlymUniNews @Imogennapper @ProfRThompson @EnvSciTech @SciEngPlymUni pic.twitter.com/YgYblPwbrg
— University of Plymouth (@PlymUni) April 29, 2019
For the research, 5 types of bags were compared- 2 oxo-biodegradable bags, a conventional plastic bag, a biodegradable bag, and a compostable bag. All these were then exposed to the elements of sea, land, and air for 3 years.
The results are as follows:
- The compostable bag decomposed in three months when exposed to seawater.
- The same bag lasted for twenty-seven months in soil but was useless for carrying things.
- Every form of a bag became fragments within nine months of exposure in the open air.
- As opined earlier, the biodegradable bag and the plastic bag could be still used to carry groceries after about 3 years in seawater or soil.
My 3-year experiment is out today! This is a biodegradable plastic bag after 3-years in the marine environment, and it can hold a full bag of shopping. Biodegradable/compostable items do not necessarily break down quickly in natural environments like the ocean 🌊 pic.twitter.com/LDucC4NucJ
— Imogen Napper (@Imogennapper) April 29, 2019
Professor Richard Thompson, the head of International Marine Litter Research Unit, believes that this proves that biodegradable products did not have a major advantage as per tackling marine litter. He is also of the opinion that the consumers might get fooled by the label of ‘biodegradable’ when thinking they might be contributing in a significant way towards the environment. He mentioned this to National Geographic in an interview.
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Prof. Richard Thompson also believes that this could be confusing for the consumer as to how they should properly dispose of a plastic bag and a biodegradable one. Considering that one of them has a capability to self-destruct, it is obvious that recyclers won’t want that to mix it with the other conventional plastic products.
Also, composting requires a whole new setup that is not available in the UK yet, as mentioned by The Guardian. According to Vegware, the company that produces compostable bags, their bags are made to decompose only under some conditions which might not be the same with all.
According to a company spokesperson, discarding a specific product is still considered littering. For something to be composted, there need to be five essential conditions- microbes, time, warmth, moisture and oxygen.
The UN has discarded the possibility of biodegradable bags as an alternative to the 8 million tons of plastic that is dumped in the oceans everywhere. For all his criticism against biodegradable bags, Thompson still finds them useful under certain situations. For example, at a game, when all the bags can be accumulated under one cover and disposed of properly. In the case of single-use, it would be better if people were to reuse instead of thinking about composting it.
So, our responsibility towards beating plastic pollution just doesn’t end with using a certain kind of plastic. We have to educate ourselves and be wise about what we use. And we can do it for the sake of the planet.
IMAGE CREDIT: Lloyd Russell / University Of Plymouth