Plastic bags can take around 20 to 1,000 (I presume that’s a guess) years to degrade, depending on sunlight and air exposure. Most will take a long time as they’re buried under tons of other rubbish at landfills.
But new degradable plastic bags have been introduced by some supermarkets – some are bio-degradable plastics, which contain a small percentage of non oil-based material, such as corn starch; and others are photodegradable plastics, which will break down when exposed to sunlight.
There are concerns over the use of degradable plastics – a photodegradable plastic product will not degrade if it is buried in a landfill site where there is no light, and they may cause greenhouse gas.
However the biggest concern if that if people think they will degrade, we may find more thrown away. So reusing plastic bags is the best idea (as mentioned here). Keep a stash in the boot of your car or even in your handbag or coat pockets so you don’t have to get a new one when you go the supermarket.
If you find you have too many and they’re taking over the cupboard, then there are other things you can do with them:
- Recycle them. Most supermarkets have a ‘bin’ where you can put your excess bags in. Be careful to only put supermarket bags in there as the thicker bags from other retailers are a different sort of plastic and food waste and even reciepts can contaminate them.
- Art. Artists are finding different ways to use them. Like Hannah Greenaway.
- Knit with them. I wrote a story many moons ago about someone making clothes from old carrier bags and now you can get tips on how to do it on the internet. Presumably you can use standard patterns.
- Other ideas include using them as ties for garden plants (although they won’t last forever), using them as bin liners (yes, you’re still throwing them away but at least you’re not buying bin liners as well), and giving them to a local charity shop (or indeed any local shop) – it’ll save them buying bags and saving them money and of course helping the environment too.
- That’s about it for recycling them, but if you want do just learn more about plastic bags, there’s a website just for you.