Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Bag Confusions

Since San Francisco's plastic-bag ban, grocery stores have been distributing biodegradable plastic bags to consumers. Is this a solution? The answer is more complicated than a simple "yes/no" response.

To recap, the plastic-bag ban revoked the usage of plastic bags made from polyethelyne (i.e., crude oil and natural gas). That's good news because it lowers our dependency on non-renewable resources. Plus, shoppers in California have another bagging option (i.e., biodegradable bags).

So, what's the bad news?

Everyone's confused about which plastic bag is which. And for good reason: Those biodegradable bags look just like the old plastic bags.

This emerging confusion is problematic because mixing these "biobags" with ordinary plastic bags may cause havoc for the recycling industry. (There's another concern: some folks believe that using biodegradable bags may subsequently endorse littering.)

To alleviate mass confusion, the American Society for Testing and Materials Standards (ASTM) has created a logo for these new bags:

To be clear, this logo can only be placed on bags that have been certified by ASTM. (To see a current list of approved vendors, click here.)

But before you breathe a sigh of relief, consider this: A plastic bag may be degradable, but it's not necessarily biodegradable nor compostable.

In plain English, this is what it means:

  • A biodegradable bag must be able to naturally degrade on a chemical level; this process may (or may not) result in toxic residues.
  • A compostable bag must be able to naturally degrade on a chemical AND physical level; this process cannot result in toxic residues.

Whew...that's a lot of information, but I certainly hope this post will help clear-up those bag confusions!

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