Alternative Plastic Bags

July 07, 2010

Packaging including supermarket carrier bags play a critical role in marketing and can even determine how supermarkets and companies are perceived by customers. I

Packaging including supermarket carrier bags play a critical role in marketing and can even determine how supermarkets and companies are perceived by customers. Is the packaging recyclable, compostable, biodegradable…? And what does that actually mean? Global environmental issues regarding the impact of plastic bags have forced markets and CPGs to offer green and sustainable consumer packaging to keep up with consumer demands. The alternative plastic bag.
Eighty percent of plastic bags are used once and then disposed.  Traditional plastics, not readily degradable and biodegradable, represent a significant environmental problem: as litter, waste in landfills and as a contributor to global warming. As litter, disposable plastics, plastic bags in particular, are a visible and widespread pollutant, and threat to animal and marine species, which ultimately affect our health. In landfills, they add volume, hinder compaction and delay biodegradation of other materials, ultimately encouraging the formation of methane a greenhouse gas. The Lempert Report wants to highlight several alternatives and new innovations in plastics and plastic bags.
Compostable is the latest term on the tip of American’s tongues, courtesy of Frito Lay’s compostable SunChips® bag, which are designed to fully break down in just 14 weeks. Compostable bags are made from polylactic acid (PLA), a derivative of corn in most instances. Compostability is not synonymous with biodegradability and requires that consumers know what to do with the empty bags. Consumers can compost at home, but this requires the right mix of materials, a lot of attention and therefore time, which run counter to the idea of packaging and packaged goods which provide convenience- by way of cost, time and effort.
In a composting facility, composting requires the proper temperatures, moisture level, and microbial loads to break down materials. TheWalkers' Gore™ Composting Facility in Ontario, recently released this press release which states that they can not currently accept the SunChips® bags in their facilities due to their 14 week ‘shelf life’.  
UV Degradation
Polythene bags - those that take 1,000 years to degrade - can be modified during manufacturing to contain certain additives causing the plastic to degrade at a controlled rate. The degradation involves the plastic to react with oxygen and is initiated by exposure to sunlight hence UV degradation - elevated temperatures and/or mechanical stress. The end products are non-toxic.
Oxo-biodegradable plastic bags disintegrate into nothing more than water, carbon dioxide and a very small amount of biomass. When discarded in soil, in the presence of microorganisms, moisture and oxygen, the bags decompose into simple materials found in nature. Stabilizers in products ensure a sufficient shelf life which depending on the product use can be a few weeks to over a year. Perf Go Green uses this technology in their range of products.
Polythene, PE
Polythene is the material used to make the traditional plastic bag. When it was first invented it was seen as a wonderful innovation especially in the food industry as it helped to improve food hygiene, but is now increasingly viewed as a mixed blessing due to environmental issues. On average 13 billion plastic bags are handed out to consumers each year, generally employed for a mere 20 minutes before being discarded, and take up to 1,000 years to decompose. On the other hand PE bags require much less energy to produce, and as compared to paper bags can carry wet items.   
These are just a few examples of the variety of plastic bags and plastic alternatives available for use as packaging, shopping bags and waste bags. As Cities and States begin to ban plastic bags it time to acknowledge alternatives, not only for carrier bags but for packaging as well. The Lempert Report supports the use of reusable bags as well as those that are biodegradable.
For more information visit EPI Environmental Products Inc.