There has been more smoke and mirrors over plastic shopping bags than any other type of packaging; a lot of rhetoric but little science.
The humble plastic bag in fact is one of the most environmentally friendly items around, and its average use of 20 minutes, followed often as a bin bag, puts it way ahead of all other types of supermarket shopper. It is also made from the 3% waste produced in oil, coal and gas operations that was previously dumped as having no worthwhile use.
Unlike paper, with its forests devastation, and the appalling pollution of paper mills and chemical usage, the plastic bag is surely an environmental wonder.
Its Achilles heel is its longevity of many decades-even centuries-that allows its damaging environmental pollution to proceed, causing blocked drains, sewage systems, water distribution, and the deaths of wildlife mistaking the plastic as a food source.
The development of oxo-biodegradable additives into plastics at the manufacturing stage, allowing litter to biodegrade over a period of around 12-18 months in the open environment, resulted in oxo-biodegradable plastic bags to score top in the environmental scales.
The recent report from INTERTEC that undertakes scientific testing for the UK Defra (Department of Environment, Farming, and Rural Affairs) scored oxo-biodegradable plastics top in 10 out of 11 criteria, and beat bio-based plastics in every environmental measure, and almost double the score of normal plastic bags.
As a result, the expansion of oxo-biodegradable plastics from shopping bags, to shrink wrap, pallet wrap etc, is already starting to have an enormously positive effect on plastic litter around the world. The UAE has become the first country in the world to develop a standard for oxo-biodegradable plastics (UAE Standard 5009:2009), and has banned all non oxo-biodegradable plastic shopping bags and other thin litter-prone plastics if they are not oxo-biodegradable.
It is this new focus on oxoplastics that could ultimately save the plastic bag.
By: George Fee