Plastics: Breaking it down

Plastics: Breaking it down

If you've been trying to reduce your environmental impact, it's likely that the first change you'll make is skipping the plastic bags at the supermarket checkout. But there are still a few instances where plastic bags are still life savers. For me, it's lining the rubbish bin or walking the dog. 

Previously I used these as excuses to take a plastic bags home from the supermarket. And although there are other options to the typical HDPE shopping bags, selecting an environmental friendlier bin liner isn't (yet) quite as simple as hitting the supermarket aisle. 

Turns out I'd been tricked!

I was sure that I had been making the right decision in purchasing degradable bags. Unfortunately, much to my dismay, there are some crucial differences when it comes to words used to describe envrionmentally friendly plastic options. 

Degradable... or is it?

It's a trap! I am very disappointed to find out that "Degradable" is a lie! The word degradable, unsurprisingly, means that the material can degrade. Technically, all plastics degrade - albeit over hundreds of years. Certain plastics, however, are labelled as degradable and contain chemical additives to assist the breaking down process. These plastics will degrade more quickly under certain conditions into much smaller pieces. But this is where the problem lies. Essentially,  plastics that are only labelled as "degradable" are just plastics that then transform into ocean-polluting micro beads!

Bio Degradable

All biodegradable plastics are degradable but not all degradable plastics are biodegradable. Bio-degradable plastics are also degradable, but the difference here is how the plastic molecules interact with the environment. These materials are able to be metabolised by microorganisms. If you remember back to high school chemistry. Such that the molecules chains can be separated into atoms, which can then become part of new organic molecules.

Compostable

Although all bio-degradable plastics will eventually break down, the definition of a biodegradable plastic does not specify the time and conditions under which the plastic will degrade. Compostable plastics, however are a certain standardised category of bio-degradable plastics. Standards, around the time and conditions for a plastic to break down, have been developed to determine whether a bio plastic is classified as "compostable." 

  All biodegradable plastics are degradable but not all degradable plastics are biodegradable.

All biodegradable plastics are degradable but not all degradable plastics are biodegradable.

 

So which is best?

  • If you really must buy plastics, look out for compostable and biodegradable options.
  • Avoid plastics labelled only as degradable (but not bio degradable or compostable)  

 

Where to buy?

Unfortunately in Australia, the main supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, do not stock any bio degradable bin liner options, only "degradable" bags. 

Luckily, I have been able to buy compostable bin liners at Bunnings Warehouse (Lowest prices really are just the beginning!) 

Both supermarket giants, however, do stock biodegradable dog bags options in the pet supplies aisle. 

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