We are polluting our planet with five trillion plastic shopping bags a year. Plastic waste seems to be everywhere, hanging in trees, buried in sand on the beach, blowing around our legs as we walk along the street.
But there is a solution to this unpleasant problem. New start-up Earthnest, based in London and Pune, India, manufactures carrier bags from natural materials such as starch. And these bags are 100 per cent biodegradable and pollution-free.
The problem with plastic bags
Plastic bags are a huge problem. Some 160,000 of them are used every second. That’s five trillion bags a year. And fewer than 3 per cent are recycled. It isn’t surprising that waste plastic bags seem to be everywhere.
Take the sea, for instance. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one of five major accumulations of rubbish in the oceans. It’s three times the size of France and it’s mainly composed of plastic – 100,000 tons of it.
Plastic rubbish such as carrier bags and plastic sheeting is unsightly, of course. But it is also very dangerous to wildlife. It’s dangerous to fish, to birds and other animals, including farming livestock. If animals eat plastic carrier bags they can die. And when they die and their bodies decompose, the plastic bag is released into the environment again, ready to kill something else.
However, rubbish is only part of the problem. The manufacture of plastic bags uses cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and vinyl hydrochloride, and the toxic by-products pollute our air, water and soil.
That’s not the end of it though. Once a plastic bag has been made, used and disposed of, it doesn’t simply break down into harmless components. It takes 700 years to start breaking down, and when it does degrade, it just crumbles into small particles of plastic – particles that are still poisonous but that are easy to breathe in or ingest.
Can plastic bags ever be sustainable?
Most consumers are aware of the problems with pollution that plastic bags cause. And many of us look for more sustainable alternatives.
Biodegradable plastic bags might seem to be an answer. But unfortunately most “biodegradable” plastic bags can still be intact and usable after three years buried in the soil. They still cause pollution and the death of animals.
So what about so-called “Bags for Life”? These are strong plastic carrier bags, designed to be used many times. But many scientists feel that, because they use more resources in their manufacture, and because they are not used very many times, they do little to increase sustainability and may even have a negative effect.
There is a need for a totally new solution: carrier bags that are truly sustainable, bags that are non-polluting, easy to recycle and fully biodegradable. Bags such as Earthnest’s biobags, which are 100 per cent free of plastic and toxins.
Many organisations are making great efforts to become sustainable. Unfortunately, it is easy to become complacent by measuring the wrong things. For example, controlling the use of plastic in offices and factories is relatively achievable and simple to measure. But for many organisations, their direct use of plastic is trivial compared to the use of plastic in their supply chain.
To achieve holistic sustainability, organisations need to examine their end-to-end use of plastic, encouraging their suppliers to move towards plastic-free operations – for instance, by substituting plastic wrapping for natural wrappings such as Earthnest’s, which are made of vegetable starch.
Company sustainability policies on the use of plastics will not be delivered through superficial moves, such as only using “biodegradable” plastics or buying carbon credits. The whole organisation needs to be measured for sustainability. And that includes the supply chain, which must be plastic-free if your organisation is to be truly sustainable.
On public perceptions of pollution
When it comes to reducing pollution, most people are eager to do what they can. Part of this involves making sure that they are buying products from manufacturers and retailers that take sustainability seriously.
To do this, consumers need to know what products are made of and where they come from, so they can judge their sustainability. It helps when products are certified by organisations such as TÜV Rheinland, Germany & UKAS , United Kingdom.
Unfortunately, while the sustainability of many consumer products is shown with a certification (organic food, for instance, is certified by the Soil Association), the packaging is rarely marked with anything beyond whether or not it is recycled and recyclable. There is more that could be done here to help consumers understand how sustainable packaging is and thus help them put pressure on producers and retailers.
Consumers have another role to play as well: educating their children about sustainability and the importance of behaving sustainably and buying products that are produced and packaged sustainably. If the next generation is informed about how they can help to protect the planet by shopping sustainably, then perhaps humanity will have a better future.
Earthnest: a revolution in packaging
Earthnest is one organisation helping consumers achieve a more sustainable future. The company produces sustainable bags and sheeting made from starch and other natural products. These products are 100 per cent plastic-free, containing no polyolefin plastic at all.
This means their carbon footprint is lowered. It also means that they do not pollute the environment in any way. Left in the soil, they degrade completely in a few months, leaving no poisonous residue.
And if an animal finds and eats one of these products before it has broken down, it won’t be harmed as the products are made of completely natural and non-toxic ingredients.
Earthnest sheeting and biobags are waterproof and oil-resistant. Importantly, they also provide an oxygen barrier. These properties make them perfect for packaging food such as meat and vegetables. And because biobags are stronger than conventional plastic bags, they are also perfect for carrying shopping.
Recycling is easy too. The biobags can be dissolved in water at 80°C (which means, of course, that they won’t dissolve in a rain shower).
All in all, Earthnest’s biobags have all of the advantages of plastic without causing any of the damage to our planet. And as they cost no more than plastic bags to manufacture, there seems little reason for them not to revolutionise the packaging and retail industries.
Earthnest products (Bio Bags) are certified as Biodegradable by TÜV Rheinland (Germany) and UKAS (United Kingdom). They are also endorsed by CIPET, the Indian Institute of Plastics Engineering, and the Indian Institute of Packaging