I recently had the good fortune to chat with Gavin Hudson from Green Options regarding a post he had written about getting rid of junk. In it he talks about using biodegradable plastic bags in your efforts to clean up where you live and get rid of junk, and I asked him where they’re available from in the UK, and whether not using plastic bags at all is better?
His very interesting answer is below.
“WAIT! BEFORE WE BEGIN, if you’re really looking for a short and sweet answer, I’ll summarize briefly: (1) yes, excitingly enough, biodegradable plastics are available in the UK; (2) for a one-person clean up, plastic bags are light-weight and easy to carry, but biodegradable plastic bags are a greener option; (3) if you’re doing a group clean-up with friends or co-workers, you can sidestep the entire issue of plastics and ‘bioplastics’ by simply bringing large buckets or any other large receptacles with you to the site of the clean-up, filling these with the garbage you find, and then emptying them into the dumpster or trash bin at home.
And now for a more detailed look at our options let’s get on with the show:
Perhaps the most interesting way to procure biodegradable bags in the UK arrived in September of 2006 when retail giant, Tesco, decided to make all of its carrier bags biodegradable. Therefore, if you shop at Tesco, you can get biodegradable bags for free. If you have a way of composting or own a ‘vermiculture’ worm composting bin, biodegradable bags are especially useful in your kitchen for storing compostable food scraps in before taking them to your compost. They also make great bags for picking up litter, as described in the article above.
If you do not shop at Tesco and the local grocery markets in your area don’t sell biodegradable plastic bags, you can also buy biodegradable plastic bags of all sorts online. BioBags is one of the larger retail producers of biodegradable plastic bags for the home. In the UK, you can buy BioBags online at http://www.biobags.co.uk.
You also ask an important question: is it better to use biodegradable plastic bags, or to avoid using bags all together?
My reasoning is that even if you purchase non-biodegradable plastic bags to pick up trash, you will still be doing a good deed. In the past, I have used spare plastic shopping bags to pick up trash from river areas, which protects an unspoiled ecological area by moving garbage to an already heavily impacted landfill. I’ve also used bags that I found along the way; or, on runs, I will sometimes pick up a glass bottle or aluminum can and jog with it to the nearest recycling bin.
As you suggest, it is always good to avoid plastics at any opportunity. I whole-heartedly encourage you to use whatever option is easiest for you when it comes to picking up trash in your area. Buckets and baskets are less convenient to bring on morning jogs, but work very well for an organized trash pick-up day with your friends. (By the way, please forgive my U.S. spellings; we have Daniel Webster to thank for that, but that’s another story.) As mentioned above, you can also use biodegradable plastic bags. Like all things under the sun, these two have positive and negative aspects.
In my opinion, the plus side to using a biodegradable plastic bag is threefold: firstly, if you buy biodegradable plastics, you will be supporting a growing industry with good intentions for the environment; secondly, bags are light and small enough that you can take them with you on any run or walk and use them only if you encounter trash to pick up; lastly, the bag itself is not made with petroleum and, unlike traditional plastics, will biodegrade quickly once it is disposed.
This said, I should give the disclaimer that there are always drawbacks to be found, even with such a wonderful improvement as biodegradable plastics. One of the main issues that comes to mind is that when we put anything biodegradable ”from orange peels to biodegradable plastic bags” in the trash, that item travels to a landfill. It decomposes, which is fantastic, but as it decomposes, it releases small amounts of greenhouse gases. This problem with biodegradable bags (or any biodegradable food item) can be overcome entirely by composting the item. If your city doesn’t have a compost/yard waste collection program in place, you can build a home compost bin or build a worm composting bin. I myself have done the latter, and it’s actually quite a fun little project. A good resource I can recommend personally for learning how to build home composters is Seattle Tilth, which offers information at their website.
I hope that this has been useful.”
Yes it has, thanks Gavin!