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Biodegradable bags: is it true that they dissolve 200 times as fast as regular ones?

14 November 2019

How often do you see the “biodegradable” label on a plastic bag? How often do you believe it? Have you ever pondered on whether or not the packaging we deem eco-friendly is actually eco-friendly?

As part of the show Technological Wonder, together with the NTV channel, we attempted to address the most widespread myths about biodegradable bags.

In reality, however, there is no legally constituted definition of what “biodegradable” means. It leads to any manufacturer being able to print this hyped-up word on their packaging without needing to prove it with facts.

Most people believe that this printed message alone is a confirmation enough that this plastic bag will decompose without harming the environment.

But is it truly so?

Often enough, a manufacturer of such “biodegradable” bags simply adds a 1-2% agent that only makes the polyethylene decomposition process somewhat faster into the ingredients. Such a bag will indeed decompose into tiny pieces of shredded polyethylene if it lies for about 18 months in direct sunlight – and only in that case.

However:

  1. If the conditions are not favorable and ultraviolet does not reach the material, it will keep its original form.
  2. The tiny pieces of polyethylene formed as a result of decomposition will keep traveling for the upwards of 500 years. They will get into the soil, water, the bodies of animals and fish, and, therefore, into ours.

A simple cloth bag would be the eco-friendliest solution to this problem. Its material is used many times before its lifespan is over and it is thrown away and decomposes fully under the external influence. However, it is not always convenient to use such a bag, of course. But of course, it’s not always convenient to use such a bag.

Nowadays, a designation system for biodegradable bags is in place. An authorized European laboratory assigns its own certificate specifying its characteristics to every type of packaging. No manufacturer can print this certificate on their products without completing special tests.

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