Are Garbage Bags Really Degradable?

Garbage BagsWhen it comes to cleaning products, “green is the new black.” We recognize that the products we decide to use can have a major impact on the sustainability of our earth, both now and in the future, and we have become more environmentally responsible with our choices, as a result. Manufacturing companies have also become aware of this and have produced alternative and more eco-friendly green product lines for consumers to choose.

The problem with this influx of green products is that not all of them are truly eco-friendly. There are many cases where companies will market their products as “green” products but have not actually implemented the proper practices or met third party standards or certifications to make them truly sustainable and eco-friendly.

An example of a product that at face value sounds like an environmentally responsible choice is degradable garbage bags. Degradable garbage bags are plastic bags that contain an additive that is known to promote accelerated degradation. The claim is that these bags are able to break down in a matter of weeks through chemical reactions involving oxygen and sunlight, primarily.

But are they truly degradable or are we yet again falling victim to “greenwashing” claims?

Technically degradable garbage bags can degrade. They do have the ability. So in a sense, this claim is not false. However, it is slightly misleading.

Degradable garbage bags are designed to use oxygen and sunlight for the degradation process to progress. Under perfect circumstances, these bags could be left out where they are continually exposed to both elements. In this case, they do have the ability to break down much quicker than regular plastic bags. But rarely do perfect circumstances exist.

Each week, our trash bags are collected and taken to waste management facilities where these elements (oxygen and sunlight) are non-existent. These landfills are designed specifically so that nothing breaks down. The trash is buried in a particular way so that it will be isolated from groundwater, will be kept dry, and will not be in contact of air. Under these conditions, not much decomposition can happen.  Also, if waste did degrade in landfills, we would then be faced with air and water pollution issues, causing further environmental harm. So under real world conditions, these degradable garbage bags would not break down as quickly as they claim to because they do not have the specific circumstances needed to do so.

So what can you do to ensure you are making the greenest choices possible? Do your research!

  • Always read the ingredient lists of products (less is more).
  • Learn about the company’s manufacturing processes.
  • Check for third party certified logos such as EcoLogo, Leaping Bunny, Green Seal, EcoCert.
  • Adopt eco-friendly habits. Composting whenever possible, avoid water running unnecessarily, and using reusable shopping bags, are a few examples.

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/keerati

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