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Compostable Bags: Solution or Pollution?

Compostable Bags: Solution or Pollution?

Feb 20,2024
Compostable bags are being introduced to the retail industry for the first time to curb the plastic problem and close the loop on shopping bag production. In the following article, Torise Biomaterials discusses whether compostable bags help fight pollution or simply exacerbate it.

What Are Compostable Bags Made Of?

These bags are often made from plant-based materials such as potatoes and cornstarch, and the advantage is that these materials break down naturally. Therefore, these bags were initially introduced as an alternative to single-use plastic shopping bags. With their dual purpose, compostable bags can not only be used to bring your big weekly shop home but they can also be repurposed to line your compost bin at home. Compostable bags are even preferred over other single-use alternatives such as Bag For Life due to their ability to be broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria.

Are Compostable Bags Better for the Environment?

A common misconception about biodegradable bags is that they break down in the natural environment. This leads people to throw them into general waste or nature, believing that they will biodegrade naturally. The reality is that bags need to be processed under special, optimal conditions to break down effectively, which requires exposure to appropriate levels of moisture, heat, bacteria, and light. This usually means they have to be collected and harvested in places like industrial composting plants.

To be considered a "compostable bag," the material must meet standards set by the governing body. For EU member states, this means complying with the EN 14995 directive that compostable products must visibly decompose within three months and biodegrade within six months when processed in an industrial composting plant at a temperature of 60℃. Degraded by at least 90%. So, yes, these bags do compost when delivered to the right place. If so, these compostable bags help create a circular solution and, by using natural materials, can reduce or even eliminate the use of non-recyclable single-use plastic bags.

Compostable Bag Issues

These bags are usually safe to throw in food or garden waste for collection and composting. The problem with this process, however, is that end users of compostable bags often have no idea where their food waste is being sent. While some households' food waste may be collected for use in industrial composting plants, others may be sent to anaerobic digestion (AD) plants for processing. An important stage of AD equipment is drying the material.

Because compostable bags contain up to 54% moisture, they require a long drying time before their dry matter can be processed, which often causes problems. Another problem with biodegradable bags is that they are confused with recyclable plastic and put together with plastic recycling by end users. While it is estimated that plastic recycling plants can handle up to 10% of the pollution caused by compostable bags, it is known that these bags pose a much wider problem than just causing pollution. Due to their high elasticity and lightweight construction, compostable bags tend to get wrapped around rotors, augers, and other components within recycling plants, causing mechanical jams and ultimately machine shutdowns.

It is known that compostable bags that survive the mechanical recycling process end up as recycled items, and as originally intended, they have begun to decompose, leaving voids in the recycled product, and rendering them unfit for use. Made from a petrochemical material similar to traditional plastic, but differing in the addition of chemical compounds that cause the bag to gradually break down in the presence of light or oxygen.

If not handled properly, they often break down into toxic sludge. To some extent, the fate of biodegradable bags, like the fate of recyclable plastics, lies in the hands of the end user. By placing biodegradable bags in brown food compost bins provided by your local authority, the material can be disposed of correctly, breaking down as intended and creating a sustainable alternative to plastic bags.

Debate: Are Compostable Bags a Solution or a Pollution?

Compostable bags have sparked a heated debate in environmental circles, with people deeply divided over whether they represent a viable solution to the global plastic pollution crisis or simply add to yet another form of environmental degradation. On the one hand, proponents argue that compostable bags offer a sustainable alternative to traditional plastic bags, with the potential to significantly reduce the burden on landfills and oceans. These advocates point to the renewable nature of the materials used in compostable bags, which often come from plant sources such as corn starch and sugar cane. They emphasize that compostable bags break down into natural components through the composting process, with minimal impact on the environment.

Skeptics, on the other hand, have expressed concerns about the practicality and effectiveness of compostable bags in mitigating pollution. A major point of contention is the industrial composting infrastructure required to properly break down these bags, which is often lacking in many areas. Critics also highlight the risk of contamination if compostable bags are not disposed of properly, potentially compromising their environmental benefits. Additionally, questions remain about the overall carbon footprint of compostable bag production and the methane gas that may be released during decomposition. As the debate intensifies, it is increasingly clear that whether compostable bags are a solution or pollution depends on a complex interplay of factors, including production methods, waste management systems, and consumer behavior.

In Conclusion:

In summary, compostable bags offer a viable alternative to conventional plastics, but their environmental impact depends on correct use and disposal. By solving challenges such as pollution and infrastructure constraints, compostable bags can play an important role in reducing pollution and promoting sustainable development. If you would like to order compostable and biodegradable products, please contact us.

Founded in 2014, Torise Biomaterials has become a pioneering force in renewable chemistry. As a Chinese specializing in compostable and biodegradable products manufacturer, Torise Biomaterials continues to raise the bar for environmental stewardship and innovation. With a strong commitment to sustainability, Torise Biomaterials offers a wide range of products that provide environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional plastics. Customers can rely on the quality and reliability of Torise Biomaterials products, knowing that each product is designed with environmental impact in mind.

One of Torise Biomaterials' key strengths lies in its strategic partnerships with renowned research institutions. By partnering with leading experts in the field, Torise Biomaterials remains at the forefront of technological advancements and scientific breakthroughs. This collaborative approach has yielded impressive results, as evidenced by Torise Biomaterials’ impressive patent portfolio. With 1 international invention patent, 23 national patents and 9 authorizations, Torise Biomaterials continues to drive innovation and set new standards for sustainable manufacturing practices. Through its commitment to research and development, Torise Biomaterials is poised to shape the future of compostable and biodegradable products globally.
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