How Does Biodegradable Bags Impact the Environment?

How Does Biodegradable Bags Impact the Environment?

The plastic bag has been associated with environmental problems over the year, and the emergence of biodegradable bags seems like a perfect substitute to address the condition. Biodegradable bags are claimed to totally decompose and leave no discernible trace in the environment. However, do biodegradable bags appear as good as they sound?

The use of plastic bags

The use of plastic bags such as the commonly used plastic grocery bags has raised lots of environmental concern that affect everyone. Despite the fact that these plastic bags are very useful all over the world, they have also impacted the environment negatively.  For instance, most plastic bags cannot be recycled, hence, they end up using precious space in landfill sites. Being light, plastic bags are easily carried by the wind into water bodies and lead to the death or injury of lots of animals and birds yearly. A supposedly viable solution to this is the introduction of biodegradable bags.

Biodegradable bags are made with such materials that make them decompose completely after some period of time. Some biodegradable bags decompose completely in 3 years, while some in a shorter period, without causing any harm to the environment or leaving any noticeable trace.

However, for the biodegradable bags to decompose especially the “oxo-degradable” biodegradable bags, it must be exposed to 2 major elements – sunlight and oxygen. Hence, where one or both of these 2 elements are not available, decomposition of the “biodegradable bags” will not begin. Therefore, despite the many real benefits presented by the biodegradable bags, there are yet lots of concerns that are to be addressed.

How the Biodegradable Bags Impact the Environment?

If the biodegradable bags are not properly disposed of, their decomposition will not begin. The decomposition of some biodegradable bags will not commence if they are not exposed to sunlight or oxygen, this means that even in landfills, they may not decompose at all if they are hidden from either oxygen or sunlight. Also, to speed up the decomposition of some “oxo-degradable” biodegradable bags in the presence of sunlight or oxygen, a certain amount of tiny metals such as manganese, iron, and cobalt were added. This means that traces of metals would be left behind after the decomposition of such biodegradable bags, which may ultimately be toxic and harmful to the environment.

More so, the decomposition of biodegradable bags may be impacted by atmospheric conditions. For instance, studies have shown that the decomposition of biodegradable bags is dependent on both humidity and temperature. Hence, decomposition takes place slowly in cold weather, while high humidity may seem to halt the process. Besides, it may sound as though biodegradable bags will decompose faster in a compost heap. However, a report showed that biodegradable bags containing manganese stopped decomposing in a compost, possibly as a result of ammonia or other compost gases produced by the microbes present in the compost.

As a result of all these, using the biodegradable bags may not really be providing the solution to the environmental issue raised by plastic bag, in short, it is simply treating the symptoms of a sickness and not the cause of the sickness.

These environmental concerns can be mitigated by either of the following:

Reducing the use of plastic bags – instead of collecting new plastic bags for every purchase, you can reuse the old one.

Repurpose them – you can reuse the plastic bags for something else at home, either as trash bags or as bin liners. You may as well use them as liners for cat litter tray.

Dispose them of properly –  where available, read and follow the disposal instructions carefully. Ensure sunlight and oxygen is made available for their decomposition.

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