Think your “biodegradable” bag is biodegradable? Think again.
If you’re like me, you bought biodegradable bags because you thought you were helping the environment. You probably imagined that plastic bag magically disappearing in the landfill unlike those other plastic bags, right? But biodegradable does not mean compostable (in fact, there’s no regulation around what “biodegradable” even means). And so-called biodegradable bags are no better than regular plastic bags—in fact, they’re worse.
The bag pictured above is my last bag from a roll of NaturSac bags I purchased long before going zero waste. I’d used this bag repeatedly as a liner in my kitchen compost bin, but it was starting to leak. I wasn’t sure how to best dispose of it since I no longer had the packaging. The bag itself says it’s biodegradable, non-polluting and recyclable, and I was hopeful I’d be able to compost it. An article in the Globe and Mail touted NaturSac bags as “A compostable garbage bag for the eco-minded grocer.” I decided to call NaturSac to find out the best way to dispose of the bag. What I discovered will make your blood boil (or at least it did mine)!
First off, the NaturSac representative told me the bags are NOT recyclable despite saying so on the bag. They said Recyc-Québec won’t accept the bags so they’ve removed that labeling on newer bags. (Most biodegradable bags aren’t recyclable since they contaminate the plastic recycling). So then I asked if there were any collection sites where I can drop off NaturSac bags for recycling. Nope. She said if I want to dispose of the bag, I can either throw it in my trash can or leave it on my lawn for a year under a rock so it won’t blow away while it degrades. What?!
It’s upsetting that a Quebec company would say their bags are recyclable when they’re not accepted by Quebec recycling programs. After our conversation, I decided to head to the grocery store to see if NaturSac actually did remove the “recyclable” label from their bags.
While they had removed the word “recyclable,” they had also added plenty of new greenwashing terms to replace it. And they still kept the recycling symbol on the bag. 😖
Despite putting “BIO” in all capital letters (“bio” is short for “biologique” in French, which means organic), there’s nothing organic about these bags. Even if you don’t have NaturSac bags where you live, you probably have something similar—plastic bags that are labeled as “biodegradable.”
These bags are made of polyethylene (i.e. plastic). When you read the fine print, you learn that these bags will degrade only if they’re exposed to oxygen, humidity, heat and UV (i.e. sunshine)—and they literally won’t be seeing the light of day in a landfill (nor getting any fresh air). So these bags are designed to transport garbage to the landfill, yet they won’t breakdown under normal landfill conditions.
In order to make bags “oxo-biodegradable” like this one, additives are used (often made with heavy metals like iron, cobalt and nickel) to make them breakdown faster in UV light. Presumably, this is helpful if the bag is pinned under a rock in your backyard, blowing around in the environment or floating in a body of water. The assumption is that microorganisms will eventually consume the plastic fragments. According to this industry-friendly definition of biodegradable, I guess all the plastic in the ocean is “biodegrading,” too, as zooplankton and other sea life ingest microplastics? 😢
According to NaturSac’s website, their bags are non-polluting because “The Natursac bag is simply bio assimilated by nature … If the bag is hanging on a tree or floating on the ocean, it will disappear in a few months.” Ummm, just because you can’t see the pollution doesn’t mean it’s no longer there. Plastic can take as long as 2,000 years to breakdown. In the meantime, microplastics and nanoplastics, far too small to see with the naked eye, are poisoning our water, food, air and bodies. As much as you might wish it, plastics don’t just “disappear.”
NaturSac also claims their bags are “non-polluting” because the green-colored ink they use to print all these false claims is water-based. This completely ignores the fact that the entire bag is plastic! You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
More green washing
Beyond calling their company NaturSac, they also found ways to include the word “natural” wherever possible to give the impression that these bags are somehow good for the planet. They describe their plastic bags as “natural” because plastic is naturally transparent and they don’t add dyes to it. I’m sorry, but see-through plastic isn’t natural. Nice try.
They also managed to invent a phony symbol called “The environment reflex,” to suggest that this bag somehow meets some sort of environmental criteria. Nope.
And to give you the impression that you’re reusing something, NaturSac happily implies you’re giving your plastic bag a second life by using a pet waste bag as a pet waste bag. Huh? What was its first life exactly?
And for the finale, they printed “pour l’avenir de nos enfants / for our children’s future” on a plastic bag full of lies. Honestly, the whole bag makes me want to vomit.
This company employs every trick in the book, making misleading and false environmental claims, adding meaningless “green” symbols then guilting you into paying a higher price “for our children’s future.”
Biodegradable bags are a sham. They are no better than other plastic bags, except in profitability for the companies selling them. Don’t fall for it. If you have to use a trash bag, reuse a bag you couldn’t avoid acquiring (bread bag, frozen veggie bag, etc.). Or better yet, go bagless! 🙂