Is your shopping bag really biodegradable?

By MiNDFOOD

Is your shopping bag really biodegradable?

An Aussie environmentalist is leading the charge to make the simple shopping bag truly worthy of the word.

When we hear the word ‘biodegradable’, we tend to work on a few assumptions. We usually assume it’s made from natural materials that are somehow ‘better’ for the environment. We also assume that the product will biodegrade in a timely and safe manner – not hundreds of years – and not leave micro-plastic pollution behind to harm the planet.

But it turns out we’re probably using the word biodegradable all wrong. Most of the products we think are biodegradable fail to meet the three real criteria of biodegradability.

Australia’s Scott Morton wants to make the word ‘biodegradable’ mean something again.

He has spent 12 years in the plastics industry making and selling bags made from traditional plastic with a natural-occurring mineral to extend the life and quality of fresh produce. In 2018, he took over BioBag World Australia as managing director and part owner of the Norway-based business.

In Europe and the US, where BioBag originated, the term ‘bio’ can only be used when it does actually break down with micro-organisms: unlike in Australia, where we allow companies to use ‘bio’ on their products without proof.

“We’re pretty loose with the word [biodegradable] in Australia,” Morton says.

He says that diverting plastic from landfill and the marine environment is his company’s “number one goal”.

“Completely reducing the use of plastic is the sole aim of using bags made from certified compostable polymers,” says Morton. “No plastic should be disposed of to landfill because it’s a waste of a valuable resource. Most of us are aware that plastic bags, including degradable and some biodegradable bags, leave micro-plastic pollution behind.”

Morton says he is transitioning from plastic to compostable bags.

The beauty of compostable bags is that once used they can be thrown onto the backyard compost heap where they will biodegrade with the other material, rather than degrade on land or at sea and end up in the food chain.

We like to think the environmental problems disappear when our shopping bags degrade, but that’s not the case.

“When people are offered degradable bags they solve the visual problem but the environmental problems remain,” says Morton.

“In one week we go through 10 billion plastic bags around the world, yet only one per cent of plastic bags are recycled globally.”

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