Degradable Plastics Just May Offer a Better Solution Than a Bag Ban!

We at Greenertowns.org are pleased to see the increased attention being paid to eliminating plastic bag pollution.  Over 6 billion plastic bags are littered each year, enough to circle the globe 63 times.  As awareness rises, an increasing number of you in towns, states, and municipalities are trying to solve this problem for your citizens.

Clearly, the world needs an alternative to regular 63 timesplastic bags.   Plastic bags take 400+ years to degrade, they emit large amount of Greenhouse Gases in production, they are manufactured  from  precious oil or natural gas, they don’t burn well, and they release large amount of greenhouse gases when incinerated.  It’s time to move to alternatives  to carrying our groceries home, and we can do better.

Many communities have considered bans of all plastic or carry bags. In our opinion, this doesn’t solve the problem, especially since there are better solutions that do not inconvenience consumers or add costs to retail sales.  Fortunately, there is also a growing interest in alternatives to plastic bags, and a resulting proliferation of products targeting a solution to plastic bag pollution and offering alternatives to consumers and retailers.

Today, various compounds are available to fit the needs of different communities.  These include:

1: Compostable bags, certified under ASTM D-6400 standards.    ASTM D6400 – 12 is the “Standard Specification for Labeling of Plastics Designed to be Aerobically Composted in Municipal or Industrial Facilities”.  These bags are certified to biodegrade, but only in certain controlled conditions.  Although they are the “granddaddy” of alternative solutions, they are no longer the best alternative for communities. They will not necessarily degrade in a reasonable time if littered or lost, and they are expensive.

2:  Marine degradable bags certified under ASTM 7081 standardsASTM D7081- 05 is the ” Standard Specification for Non Floating Biodegradable Plastics in the Marine Environment “.  This certification is for plastics that can bio-degrade under the marine environmental conditions of aerobic marine waters or anaerobic marine sediments, or both.  These alternative products tend to be expensive, and are difficult to manufacture.

3: Oxo-biodegradable bags certified under ASTM 6954 standards.  AS
TM D6954- 04 is the “Standard Guide for Exposing and Testing Plastics that Degrade in the Environment by a Combination of Oxidation and astm logo
Biodegradation”
.  Oxo- biodegradable bags degrade from exposure to oxygen.  By adjusting the amount of additive used, the time to degrade can be adjusted.   Some of these may leave a toxic residue.  If you are looking at this solution, pay attention to the reactive agent involved.

4. Anaerobic degradable bags under ASTM 5511ASTM 5511 is the “Standard Test Method for Determining Anaerobic Biodegradation of Plastic Materials Under High-Solids Anaerobic-Digestion Conditions”.  Anaerobic degradation does not require oxygen.  Bags made with these materials can degrade if buried in a landfill. This is a viable solution, but are expensive.

5: Photodegradable bags certified under ASTM 5272 standards.  ASTM D5272 – 08 is the “Standard Practice for Outdoor Exposure Testing of Photodegradable Plastics” .   Photodegradable bags degrade when exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun.  We believe that this is the best solution for most communities.  They will degrade if littered or lost, are non-toxic, and the materials can be recycled with other plastic bags without damaging the recycle stream.  They also can be manufactured for the same cost as traditional plastic bags.

GXT Green (www.GXTgreen.com) is a company that offers a full complement of plastic replacement products that can meet any, or all of these various standards.  The most common, and best solution, according to them, is the photodegradable bags.  Their ECOgrade bags accomplish the goal of environmentalists to avoid litter (they photodegrade from sunlight if littered) and mitigate risk to fish and wildlife (they will degrade from sunlight even in the water, and they are non-toxic).  Towns such as Saco Maine, which is very environmentally conscious, and the Country of India, which has a major litter issue, have embraced photodegradable bags as an alternative to plastic carry-bags.

The team at GXT Green has offered to provide samples and education to any community that would like to learn more about options and alternatives.  They are passionate about this subject. Their ECOgrade photodegradable bags have won many awards for their innovation and positive impact on reducing environmental impact.  If you would like to learn more, or receive a sample of the ECOgrade photodegradable bag, please contact Michael Vanin at info@gxtgreen.com, and he will be happy to help you out.

Eliminating Bubble Wrap from our Waste Stream

Bubble Wrap from Sealed Air
Bubble Wrap from Sealed Air

Bubble wrap was first invented in 1957.  For decades, it has been the best-selling product of Sealed Air Corp.  However, it is bulky, expensive to ship and store, and not easily disposed of. While bubble wrap is light-weight, it scores low for sustainability and cost factors.  Towns and
cities are starting to consider banning this product, along with polystyrene packing.

The good news is that there are better products available now, which are
certainly more sustainable than Bubble Wrap ever was.  Even Sealed air is rolling out a replacement of Bubble Wrap.  The replacement, dubbed iBubble Wrap, takes up far less space in storage and significantly reduces shipping cost as a result. However, these improvements come at a price to users both in cost and nostalgia; the signature bubble-popping sound that could be heard when squeezing the original Bubble Wrap is no longer part of the package, to the disappointment of children everywhere. But more significantly, iBubble Wrap needs to be inflated by the shipper, resulting in extra labor and extra cost. The current price of the custom pump required to inflate the wrap is $5500, and requires an extra step for the packer.

While this new product seems to offer an innovative solution to the issue of warehouse space for the packaging industry, it does little to resolve questions about waste and sustainability. It’s unclear whether the new Bubble Wrap is reusable, but realistically, it’s much more likely to be thrown out after a single use than reused, and the useful life of a product dependent on remaining inflated is most likely limited.

There are several other solutions now available for packing, many of them superior to Bubble Wrap.

Mycofoam mushroom packaging from Ecovative
Mycofoam mushroom packaging from Ecovative

A company called Ecovative  has developed packaging made from mushrooms.  While this scores very high in regard to sustainability, it is expensive and difficult to work with. Sealed Air has also developed an alternative suspension packaging call  which suspends items between sheets of film.  However, the packaging, which contains glue, is still difficult to recycle or reuse.

ECO-R3SP Suspension Packaging from GXT Green
ECO-R3SP Suspension Packaging from GXT Green

GXT Green has developed a suspension packaging solution called ECO R3SP™ which eliminates the weak points of Korvuu.  Their approach is to suspend items between reusable frames which are heat sealed, and therefore more sustainable, recyclable, and cost effective. This could be a cost effective, sustainable solution for many shippers.

It’s commendable that these companies continue to develop innovative solutions to a significant industry and waste disposal problem.  Perhaps it’s time for towns and cities to step up and take a stand on eliminating the old Bubble Wrap solution, and promote businesses’ use of these newer packing products.

It’s Time For Towns to Recommend a Switch to Stronger Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic Bags

When Grocers made the shift from paper to plastic bags in the early 1980s, it was a boon to their bottom line. Plastic bags are significantly less expensive green bagthan paper bags, are stronger, and since they require less energy and use less
resources for manufacture, actually have a smaller carbon footprint than paper.  However, plastic bags have received a bad reputation from environmentalists, who are rightfully concerned about the number of bags that end up as litter in our waters and in our trees, leaving ugly remains in our towns and cities.

In an effort to mitigate waste and environmental impact, as well as reduce costs, plastic bag manufacturers have endeavored to make bags thinner and thinner.  Unfortunately, this results in less confidence by the customer that the bags are secure and an increase in register clerks doubling bags.  Industry estimates are that 20% of grocery bags are doubled or damaged at the cash register.  Thus the real cost and environmental impact of these bags has increased as retailers use more of these thinner plastic bags.   In addition, rather than encouraging recycling, some communities have looked to ban, or charge for plastic and paper bags at the grocer.

recycle barrelWhat’s a better solution, and what should we encourage our environmentally concerned retailers to do?  First and foremost, we need to encourage customers to recycle their bags.  Recycling is the best way to cut down on waste, as well as eliminate the danger that littered bags pose to wildlife.  But even better, with a long term perspective, we can save money, reduce carbon footprint, increase the visibility of a sustainable message, and mitigate danger to wildlife by converting to bags made with new technologies.

Today there are a variety of options of  more sustainable replacements for plastic bags.  Depending on the local environmental requirements, replacements for bags can be made from materials that are any combination of:chmical formula

  • Bio-degradable
  • Photo-degradable
  • Anerobically degradable (without air, such as in a landfill)
  • Aerobically degradable (from extended exposure)
  • Compostable
  • Renewable/organic

In many cases, bags made from these new materials can be manufactured at the same or lower cost than plastic.  Almost all are less expensive and stronger than paper bags, and many of them are stronger than the plastic bags that grocers are currently using. Since they do not need to be doubled, this results in approximately 20% fewer bags being used, which immediately improves profitability and reduces waste.

Often, we see communities, who have not researched the options, deciding to ban all carry bags.  This is not necessary, nor is it the best solution for our community members, who still need to get their groceries home. Before your town embarks on a campaign to ban bags, we recommend that you study the options.  You just may find a solution that is better for the environment, more convenient for your community, and does not put an unfair cost burden on your retailers. If you’d like to learn more about where to find these new technologies, please contact us at info@greenertowns.org, and we will be pleased to help point you toward some options.