The Bin Bag Dilemma

At the start of a July Australia’s two dominating supermarkets began to phase out single use plastic bags, Coles then backtracked on this pledge showing just how popular single use plastics still are with the Australian public. The debate on the future of single use plastics being pushed further into the spotlight by Coles could be at least some silver lining from their regression.

Many people like myself try to reuse plastic bags and give them a new life as a bin liner destined for landfill. But with the potential end in sight for plastic bags we are going to have to change the way we wrap our rubbish, but which is the best option?

 Victorian produced landfill. photo: Graham Tidy Image source: www.theage.com.au

Victorian produced landfill. photo: Graham Tidy Image source: www.theage.com.au

Ideally, to go without a liner at all if it’s supported by the local council would be a win. The benefits of using newspaper as a wrap are not settled though as it doesn’t degrade in landfill well and it’s highly recycled in its typical use. Plus, a bit like plastic bags, newspaper is also going the way of the dodo over time.

The different plastic options for bin bags are made of various compounds:  Petrochemical, degradable or biodegradable plastic bags, so making the right choice takes consideration. Cheap petrochemical bags will be in the environment for the rest of our lifetimes, the confusing choice is really the difference between degradable and biodegradable bags. Degradable bags deteriorate into small pieces creating hazardous microplastics eventually going back into the food chain, while biodegradable plastics require specific conditions to compost.

 Compostable logo of the Australian Bioplastics association. Image source: www.bioplastics.org.au

Compostable logo of the Australian Bioplastics association. Image source: www.bioplastics.org.au

Biodegradable plastics seem to be the best option of the plastic bags available. There are however some limitations and they are not as much a fix all solution to plastic waste as they initially seem. The biggest drawback being the specific conditions which the plastic requires to degrade. For this to occur the plastic needs to be exposed to UV and to temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius. If these conditions are not met then the bags will not decompose properly. If they end up in landfill they end up releasing methane a potent but temporary greenhouse gas into the environment.

It seems the best option is avoid plastic bags total if possible. If not, select carefully & read the makeup of what you’re buying. Similarly in the design of new products we need to consider the end of their life or start of their new life if recycled or repurposed. If you’re interested get in contact with us at Hone product design, Melbourne.