Beauty Plastics Paper & Packaging
Are paper bags better than plastic bags?
Consistent research has shown paper bags have a far higher carbon footprint than plastic, as it takes 4 times as much energy to manufacture paper bags as it does plastic bags. Tree’s may be in harmony with nature, but the process for mashing them up into paper isn’t. Paper bags will have made hefty contribution to global warming, regardless of where it ends up.
To produce paper bags, forest trees are cut down (they absorb greenhouse gasses). Paper bags are produced by heating wood chips under high temperature and pressure in a chemical solution this process uses toxic chemicals that contribute to air and water pollution.
Additional toxicity is generated as paper bags degrade, and they generate 70% more air and 50 times more water than plastic bags. Moreover, delivering a single lorry of plastic bags is equivalent to delivering 7 lorries of paper bags of the same quantity.
Recycling a pound of plastic takes 91% less energy than recycling a pound of paper.
Conventional plastic vs biodegradable plastic vs bioplastic
Conventional plastic is made up of petroleum-based products derived from oil, which can take hundreds of years to break down (if ever).
Biodegradable plastic is also made from petroleum-based products; however, they contain chemical additives to assist degradation at a much faster rate, when exposed to air and light, this process means the plastic can take around 2-5years or slightly longer to break down.
Bioplastic is made up of plant biomass, e.g. Corn-starch, sugar cane or wheat, this enables it to completely break down naturally very quickly or be compostable. Whereas Photodegradable plastics only degrade when exposed to light.
However, where the product ends up ultimately determines whether it is biodegradable or not. Biodegradable plastic or bioplastic that ends up in a landfill site will never decompose. Due to the mummified state of landfill sites they lack the necessary light and oxygen needed to break down material.
Additionally, not all biodegradable plastics/bio plastics that are recycled/composted will decompose, as biodegradable does not always mean compostable. There are a lot of factors involved.
For example, a chunk of biodegradable plastics fragments rather than biodegrade because of the addition of oxidising agents also known as oxo-degradable plastics, will instead break down into small pieces which can pollute soils.
This in turn increases the risk of ingestion for animals, causing plastic to end up in our oceans and waterways. These types of plastics cannot be redeemed as they can not be recovered for recycling and are not suitable for composting.
Many biodegradable plastics are classed as code 7, placing them in the “other” category. These code 7 plastics are generally not accepted by local councils for recycling as it is much harder to recycle them due to the chemicals added to them.
The most common type of biodegradable bag – Polyethylene, has the chemical addictive, manganese, this stops it from decomposing when placed in compost bins due to the influence of ammonia or other gases produced by microorganisms in the compost; another example of biodegradable not always equating to compostable.
Moreover, bioplastics have been the cause for ethical debate, due to the sourcing of plant material used to make it; there have been endless concerns including the use of GM crops, as well as the cultivation of valuable farm land that would be needed to grow the material.
The concept of biodegradable, compostable and recyclable plastics is a massive headache at present. There seems to be no simple answer, besides avoiding single use plastics where possible, and to educate the public that products labelled biodegradable are not always as environmentally friendly as they appear.
Compostable goods appear to be a better choice than biodegradable plastic, but only when composted properly and appropriately.