2015/02/12

A new era for plastic bags

Categories: Circular economy in the plastics industry, Developments in laws and regulations on plastics, Innovation and trends in bioplastics

plastic bagsWe are facing an increasingly environmental awareness. This is largely due to the huge amount of wastes that consumer society generates every day. These wastes sometimes are not well-managed and it leads to an environmental problem that is sometimes used as a pretext by agents driven by economic interests, as a result of confusion and disinformation.

Plastic bags are an example of this. Each year, between 500,000 millions and a billion of plastic bags are consumed around the world, a million of bags per minute. Imagine for a moment an inadequate management of these wastes and all what it can generate in our environment.

Regulation of the use of plastic bags in the world 

Both in Europe and in the rest of the world, each country has begun to introduce measures with more or less success, but always based on aspects such as making easier the consumer action in an educational way to develop a more ecological conscience and in a dissuasive, economical and legal way. Countries have adopted, in most cases, some dissuasive measures to face the huge amount of plastic bags that are used. Among these measures we can highlight:

Alternatives to disposable single-use bags

The solution of protecting the environment is not only the removement of single-use bags. From our point of view it depends on two points:
Firstly, the consumer awareness. Single-use bags can be recovered after their use in different forms. One of them is their use as garbage bags, minimizing the impact of these. In countries and areas with plastic selective collection, subsequent uses in transformed plastics can be given to bags, avoiding both consume of fossil fuels and its end in landfill and, in that way, it could be transformed in a raw material with an added value.

Secondly, another alternative is the use of reusable bags.

Reusable plastic bags

Reusable plastic bags will allow the drastic reduction in consumption of single-use bags. There are different types of reusable bags, most of them are made of plastic (PP raffia, PE resistant bags…). 

The key point is reusing them more times  than the ratio: reusable bag weight/single-use bag weight; to do it establishing some technical specifications that bag must have was needed. Therefore, plastic bags manufacturers in Spain have produced a standard in order to get the homologation of the Reusable Plastic Bag “UNE 53942: Plastics bags reuse of polyethylene (PE) for the transport of products distributed by retail. Requirements and test methods”.  The format of this kind of bags is similar to the current one, except that they have a higher size, better properties and are designed to make their latest use as garbage bags, that had become a common household practice. If they are not used as garbage bags they will be picked up for their subsequent recycling, according to how it is currently done, through the selective collection of packages, since these bags, as the polyethylene single-use bag, is 100 % recyclable. With a proper use by the consumers, reusable bags are, currently, an optimum environmental solution. The best one, as lifecycle researches made about different types of bags which are available on the market show, including those made with paper. Finally, and as an alternative to the conventional plastic, we found the use of biodegradable plastic.

Biodegradable plastic bags

These bags, at first made to have a single use, can be manufactured using biodegradable materials from renewable sources  (for instance starch from potato, corn, peas, etc.) .The management of wastes of these biodegradable plastic bags will be different according to its capacity to be rejected with the organic matter to its composting. This kind of bags must end their useful life in a composting plant and after 6 months, it will be rotted thanks to a fertilizer or compost that could be used in agricultural crops, gardens, etc., being then a true recovery. There are a lot of questions about these bags yet, mainly related to the major cost of them (it is hoped to be reduced with the production increase), to the insufficient current production (far from PE bags production) and to the behavior of this material into traditional recycling methods line. It is needed to keep working to improve this bag.

Which are the valid solutions?

All the alternatives, the single-use bags recycling, reusable plastic bags and biodegradable plastic ones, are technically and environmentally right and they fulfill the requirements of use. So, the final use of every way will depend on the last decisions taken by the market, although in a short term all the options may coexist. 

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