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What’s the difference between Biodegradable & Compostable Plastic Bags

As is well known, the enormous volumes of plastic that are consumed and produced pose a severe threat to the environment. The issue simply grows worse every year. Over 5 trillion plastic bags are used each year, virtually all of which are thrown after a single use, and this is a big contributor to the issue.

Many government agencies and environmental groups have made reducing the use of plastic bags their top priority. These organisations and private businesses have been searching for substitutes, and so far two different types of plastic bags have been created and manufactured. Biodegradable plastic bags and compostable plastic bags are these two options.

Now that we have examined the definitions of biodegradable and compostable, we can better comprehend the differences between the two:

Biodegradable = degrades with the help of naturally occurring microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi.

Compostable = degrade in a natural biological process producing only carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass, with no visible or distinguishable toxic residue.

As you can see, the main distinction is in the quality of their finished goods. A compostable object has set products, whereas a biodegradable one does not .

Biodegradable plastic bags

Over the past ten years, the use of biodegradable plastic bags has increased. In principle, "biodegradable" seems like a great way to combat the pollution that plastic bags generate. It seems to sense that biodegradable plastic bags would be a better choice for the environment than conventional plastic bags.

This is partially accurate, but there may be other ways in which they harm the ecosystem more. We must compare this sort of plastic bag to regular plastic bags on some of their main environmental issues, such as how they are produced and what happens to them after we have used them, in order to fully understand the benefits and drawbacks of each.

What are biodegradable plastic bags made from?

Different types of biodegradable plastic bags are available. In reality, "biodegradable plastic," like regular plastic bags, is still created using petroleum.

In a similar manner to how regular plastic bags are created, "biodegradable plastic" bags also contain extra compounds that aid in the breakdown of the carbon chains that bind plastic polymers together .

How long does it take for biodegradable plastic bags to decompose?

Biodegradable plastics break down at varying speeds depending on a variety of variables, such as:

  • temperature

  • amount of moisture

  • what the bag is made of

  • amount of light

  • amount of oxygen

The list continues forever.

Even with all of these variables, the typical lifespan is thought to be between 3 and 6 months, which is a vast improvement over the many hundreds of years demanded by conventional plastic bags .

Because substances are added during their manufacturing to split the plastic polymers into smaller pieces, biodegradable plastic bags are able to degrade more quickly. This makes it possible for soil and landfill microbes to break them down into smaller molecules.

While some of these plastic bags can degrade into inert byproducts, it has been demonstrated that others can degrade into microscopic plastic shards and even metals .

Can you put biodegradable bags in compost?

The short answer is no, biodegradable plastic bags cannot be placed in the compost.

The long answer is that, unless they clearly state otherwise, you can't normally compost them. Even when those circumstances are met, the type of bag being used makes a big difference in how quickly the majority of biodegradable bags can break down.

The recommended course of action is to avoid attempting to compost biodegradable plastics unless they are offered as "compostable" plastic bags because the labelling of these materials is not always apparent .

Compostable plastic bags

In most cases, compostable plastic bags are preferable to regular plastic bags over biodegradable ones. They resemble regular plastic bags and are equally sturdy. They have gradually increased in popularity, and the same technology is now being used for other products, such as compostable utensils.

What are compostable plastic bags made of?

Due to the fact that they are created from natural plant fibres like corn or wheat, compostable plastic bags are far more environmentally friendly than biodegradable ones.

These bags may be made with a lot less energy than regular plastic bags, and they are typically regarded as carbon neutral. Even leftover plant byproducts from the production of other items can be used to create the plant fibres used in these bags.

How long does it take for compostable plastic bags to decompose?

Compostable plastic bags have a hard decomposition process.

In most cases, under the correct circumstances, they decompose into carbon dioxide and water. Considering that no poisons or carcinogens are being created, this appears to be highly advantageous.

The problem originates from the fact that the majority of these bags can't be composted at home and instead need special composting facilities to break down.

They need specific conditions that are impossible to keep in a typical residential composting system. In order to maintain the necessary conditions, composting facilities must use energy to maintain a steady temperature and humidity, which increases their carbon footprint.

Nevertheless, a few plastic bags that can decompose in home composts do exist, albeit they are frequently more expensive.

Compostable plastic bags will break down in 1 to 6 months if the right circumstances are present . Be sure to read the labelling on biodegradable bags, just like you would with petroleum-based ones, and send the bag to a composting site if you are unsure.

What are the environmental problems with biodegradable and compostable plastic bags?

These bags lessen several of the issues associated with regular plastic bags, including the need for more energy during production, the length of time needed for decomposition, and the creation of less harmful particles. The problems related to using non-reusable bags are still present even with these modifications.

There are numerous environmental problems with these bags, however, the following are a few:

  • Many biodegradable bags need sunlight and air to break down completely. Although these bags are capable of degrading, landfills actively work to minimise the amount of oxygen, water, and sunlight present. As a result, sometimes they cannot. This implies that, like regular plastic bags, they will accumulate in landfills and take up a lot of space . Furthermore, the oxygen and sunlight that plastics in the water need to degrade are not always there.

  • Biodegradable bags made of petroleum can leave behind chemicals when they break down. Animals ingest these pollutants once they leach into streams and groundwater resources .

  • Plastics other than biodegradable ones cannot be recycled with them. This means that if they are recycled, it takes additional energy to separate them out and recycle them separately (which is often produced using fossil fuels).

  • People begin to believe that because plastic bags are compostable or biodegradable, it is acceptable to use more of them. The majority of individuals are unaware of the energy, labour, or requirements needed for their bags to decompose.

Although these bags are frequently a better option than ordinary plastic bags, there are still a lot more eco-friendly options available.

Environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic bags

The least harmful alternatives to using plastic bags are to never use them at all or to use a reusable bag. Today, the majority of large supermarkets, neighbourhood retailers, and governmental organisations provide reusable bags made expressly for grocery shopping. If you don't have one of these bags, you can use any other bag you have—a backpack, beach tote, gym bag, etc.

Use it if you can repurpose it, please!

It all boils down to adopting a particular mindset in order to be ecologically aware, and sustainable, and contribute to reducing the use of plastic bags. You can make a difference by making an effort to lessen your own environmental footprint, and if the concept continues to catch on, the world will begin to move in the direction of a healthy future.

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