Green groups unravel truth behind “degradable” plastic bags

Photos by Gigie Cruz-Sy / GAIA

City of Manila. In celebration today of the 6th International Plastic Bag-Free Day, green groups set out to clarify questions about so-called degradable plastic bags and warn the public about their impacts.

In a forum, aptly dubbed, “The truth behind Degradable Plastic Bags”, zero waste, chemical safety, anti-marine pollution, and plastic bag-ban advocacy organizations EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace, Mother Earth Foundation, and Earth Island Institute (EII) told their varied audience that degradable bags are highly problematic and certainly not environment-friendly.

“Degradable plastic bags will not help solve our environmental problems concerning waste and pollution, as their use will merely instill and promote further the throwaway attitude and culture that have so permeated modern society,” said Sonia Mendoza, President of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“Such a throwaway culture is generally what has been causing much environmental degradation by perpetuating the linear, wasteful system of extraction of vital resources to manufacture products that end up in disposal sites as stubborn pollutants instead of getting recovered for recycling,” she explained, alluding to Pope Francis’ recent Laudato Si.

The group claimed that the term “degradable” is debatable and does not necessarily mean friendly to the environment.

“Not all degradables offer true biodegradation,” explained Professor Rosario Woodof Miriam College, one of the main speakers in the forum. Wood, whose45 years of teaching experience in higher education in the disciplines of Chemistry, Physics, and Environmental Science, about 25 years of which focused on environmental education,holds a Master of Science degree in Chemistry, major in Biochemistry from Ohio University, USA.

“Oxo-degradable plastic bags, as an example, merely crumble into super tiny bits of plastic, which turns them into a lot more problematic pollutants as they now easily get dispersed into the environment making their clean-up more difficult,” said Wood.

The EII, which works on marine pollution issues, emphasized that plastic bags are among the most common marine pollutants recovered during coastal clean-ups.

“In Ocean Conservancy’s 2014 international coastal clean-up report, plastic bags continue to make it into the top 10 most common discards found in beaches around the globe. Plastic bags will hit the 5th place in the report if data on plastic grocery bags and other plastic bags are combined,” said Karl Ramirez of EII.

“These plastic bags also harm marine life, like turtles which mistake the former for food,” he continued.

The groups maintained that no other substitute to plastic bags, degradable or not, can be better than reusable bags.

Mendoza continued saying, “promoting the use of reusable bags and containers, such as when going to the market, reverses wasteful attitude and instills among the citizenry a consciousness of being responsible and sustainable, one that our society needs toward a genuine zero waste society, where resources go in circle instead of moving in one direction from extraction to disposal sites.”

For years, EcoWaste Coalition, members, and allies have been calling for the enactment of a national plastic bag ban law carrying provisions that will:

– phase-out all kinds of plastic bags;

– promote reusable bags using natural fibers;

– advance extended producer responsibility, e.g. through the set up of take-back/collection mechanisms and recycling;

– impose environmental levy on plastic bags; and

– mandate labelling of so-called “degradable” plastic bags showing name of manufacturers, manufacturing date, components of the productsand their degradation period.

“We need to ‘ban the bag’for the country to truly accomplish ‘solid waste avoidance and volume reduction through source reduction and waste minimization measures,’ as a defined course of action specified in the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 or Republic Act 9003,” expressed Mendoza.