Wondering how to line your household bins now single-use plastic bags have disappeared?
Today most of us are aware of how harmful plastic is, if not for us now then for our children and grandchildren. And it’s a problem that Scott Morton, Director of BioBag World Australia, has anticipated with the introduction of bio-based bags designed to help with the plastic crisis.
“Scientists estimate there’ll be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050,” says Scott. “Over 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide every year and the United Nations says global plastic production is projected to nearly double in the next 10 to 15 years. The UN describes plastic pollution as the defining environmental challenge for our time.”
Plastic is a valuable resource that needs to be recycled instead of being sent to landfill where it takes hundreds of years to break down.
“If we can divert even one gram of plastic from landfill and the marine environment we are happy,” says Scott. “Every piece of plastic ever produced is still somewhere, unless it’s been burnt. If a BioBag makes it into a landfill or the marine environment where oxygen and microorganisms are present, it will break down into organic matter leaving no toxic, plastic residues.”
So if we’re not using plastic shopping bags to line our bins, what other alternatives are there? We’ve listed the various options along with their pros and cons:
Newspaper – This is the old fashioned way and how it was done before plastic became popular. Some people still use newspaper to wrap food scraps but this means scooping out soggy newspaper, scraping out scraps that fall through the cracks, and having to wash out your bin regularly. Nobody has time for that, even if you can work out how to fold the paper so it fits.
Zero Waste South Australia says using newspaper to line your bin is not as sustainable as you might think because Australia is the world leader in newspaper recycling. Australians divert about 72 percent of newsprint from landfill. If everyone started using newspaper to wrap their waste, it would remove valuable newspaper from the recycling stream, adding pressure on virgin forestry resources.
No liner – You may think using no bin liner is ideal but it still has environmental impacts:
- Bins need to be washed more frequently, increasing water use,
- Bin cleaning products have their own environmental impacts,
- Bin liners help keep kerbside bins clean and free of odour and vermin,
- The absence of bags can increase the time and effort required to collect garbage manually and may pose health risks to the workers, and
- Collecting loose waste using automated trucks may result in accidental littering of lightweight items adding to current litter levels, especially in windy conditions.
The reality is, soon millions more Aussies will be buying bin liners. So what are our options?
Degradable bags – Often marketed as ‘environmentally friendly’, degradable bags are just regular plastic bags with chemicals added so they break down faster into micro-plastics. The problem is the plastic never goes away no matter how small the particles are and this can cause havoc with the health of our eco-system. Degradable bags are not recyclable because they are designed to break down which compromises the structural integrity of the items made from the recycled materials.
- Have a lower carbon footprint than traditional plastics,
- Contain biodegradable polymers made from a combination of starches, e.g. corn, potatoes, sugar,
- Comply with the Australian Standard AS4736 which means they will biodegrade in any environment where microorganisms are active,
- Break down on land and in water without high temperatures if microorganisms are present, and
- Unlike the grey supermarket bags that often have holes in the bottom, you only need to use one BioBag as a bin liner.
“Thousands of Aussies who recycle food waste via kerbside green bins or compost bins use certified compostable BioBags to get kitchen scraps into their bins. Local councils that offer green organics collection services provide BioBags for households to reduce mess and odours,” says Scott.
Biodegradable bags – ‘Biodegradable’ is a buzz term right now but what is it? In Australia, the term biodegradable doesn’t mean anything because everything is biodegradable eventually. So does it really break down and save the planet? Not necessarily.
Legislation in the USA forbids the term ‘biodegradable’ to appear on any product, unless that product is shown to break down into elements in nature within five years. In Australia, we allow companies to use the term ‘Bio’ without proof. In Australia, bags made of plastic are being labelled ‘biodegradable’ and this misleads us to think they’re made from natural materials which isn’t always the case. In Europe and the USA where BioBag originated, the term ’Bio’ can only be used when it does actually break down with microorganisms.
With conscientious choices we can all help keep the planet safe from plastic pollution.