Why Aren’t Biodegradable Plastic Bags Better than Paper Bags?

It doesn’t seem too long ago that we were all using traditional single-use plastic bags. Come home from the weekly shop and you’d probably have 10 or 12 left in the boot. Those days have passed – people and governments finally wised up to the impact single-use plastic bags have on the environment, and we’re now strongly encouraged to use more sustainable options instead.

That means we’ve seen paper bags become more popular, but some people believe the old single-use plastic bag is going to make a comeback in the form of biodegradable plastic.

Here’s why biodegradable plastic bags still aren’t as eco-friendly as basic paper bags.

Biodegradable Plastic Only Breaks Down Under Certain Conditions

When most people hear the term ‘biodegradable plastic’, they picture a material that quickly starts to break down when dumped in landfill or even left by the side of the road. Unfortunately, this is not the case. These plastics can biodegrade, but they don’t always biodegrade

You see, these plastics are designed to break down only under certain conditions. Most biodegradable shopping bags will only break down at certain temperatures. If they get in the ocean – which is where plenty of plastic ends up – plastic bags do not reach that temperature. They also sink, so UV rays can’t get to them.

Biodegradable Plastics Can Release Harmful Gases

Let’s say every biodegradable plastic bag does end up getting sent to landfill. It can still pose a risk to the environment. When a biodegradable plastic is sent to landfill, it will break down. However, most biodegradable plastics will release harmful greenhouse gases as this process occurs.

Most Biodegradable Plastics Are Not Bio-Based

A bio-based material is made using natural materials. These are great because producing them doesn’t put such a strain on the environment. Unfortunately, most biodegradable plastics are made from oil, just like conventional plastics. Additionallly, they are often combined with transition metals, including cobalt, manganese, and iron, to help trigger the breakdown process.