Blog first published on September 30, 2019
The Co-op has announced it intends to replace its plastic bags with biodegradable bags. It is part of an ‘ethical strategy’ to help tackle plastic pollution as well as food waste, healthy eating, saving energy and trading fairly.
The Co-op said it is committed to reducing the use of plastics by 2023. It intends to replace the use of 60 million plastic carrier bags with lightweight compostable bags. Customers will be able to take their shopping home and re-use the bags as food waste caddy liners. These will be rolled out to almost 1,400 Co-op food stores in areas where the bags are accepted in food waste collections.
What classes as biodegradable bags?
This is certainly a step in the right direction but it won’t necessarily solve the problem.
Biodegradable bags need to have the right conditions to degrade and it’s important to be clear what we are talking about.
Made from natural materials, such as corn starch, bioplastics will break down in the right conditions. But if the temperatures aren’t high enough they won’t break down. So throwing them on top of your compost heap at home won’t necessarily achieve the right result. They really need the industrial-scale, municipal sites that generate a lot of heat to help the process.
But if these bags end up blowing around and end up in the sea, they are less likely to break down, as they will be too cold to do so.
There is also such a thing as biodegradable plastics, which may degrade with the help of light or oxygen. Made from petrochemicals, toxic residues can remain in the compost when they break down.
These also suffer from the same problem that if they get too cold. They won't degrade and so are no better than standard plastic bags.
Big challenges ahead
It is quite a problem that we have got ourselves into and one which everyone of us should try to help to solve. We all need to reduce our own use of plastic, which is quite a challenge.
To read more about the Co-op’s plans, visit https://www.co-operative.coop/media/news-releases/co-op-bans-single-use-plastics-and-unveils-compostable-carrier-bags
To read more about bioplastics and biodegradable plastics visit https://www.explainthatstuff.com/bioplastics.html