What is fact? What is truth? What is the solution?
Most people want to do the right thing for the environment and for wildlife. Plastic bags are targeted by good-intentioned environmentalists and citizens as a major cause of litter, landfill issues, and sustainability. And compostable, reusable, and paper bags are frequently hyped as a solution.
But what are the facts? When you explore the facts, and apply a little scientific proof, plastic bag bans are rooted in misunderstanding and misinformation.
Mouse over the FACTS icon or text to see facts you can verify.
Answer: No, they do not comply with the FTC. In several ways they violate FTC guidelines for marketing claims in plastics. For example, legislation that supports biased 3rd parties who profit from its claims. The truth is distorted by claiming that composting is biodegradable, and yet states on its own documentation that "nothing biodegrades in a landfill".
Another misleading claim is that "it supports recycling". However, further research finds that its definition of recycling is via "composting". So how does this get recycled back into corn? Is it shipped back to the Midwest? Is corn grown at the landfill? Are corn starch recycling facilities built on the landfill? These acts and types of claims are in direct violation of FTC guidelines.
They also attempt to redefine the true meaning of words, as cited in Webster's dictionary. For example, it's definition of "biodegradable" relies on some sort of industrial facility decomposition, and is wildly different than Webster's definition, which is: bio·de·grad·able: Capable of being slowly destroyed and broken down into very small parts by natural processes, bacteria, etc. Human beings rely on dictionary definitions, especially when it comes to making claims about a product's qualities.
The inference in their choice of words and definitions is that they are "educating the people". Unfortunately, the vast majority of the scientific community does not agree with their claims, definitions, and understand the damage many of these erroneous claims.
Answer: No! Bag bans promoting or endorsing D6400 are not EPA compliant. In fact they immediately contribute to the proliferation of greenhouse gas, instead of reducing it. The Federal EPA wants and sponsors the production of electricity in landfills by capturing the LFG (landfill gas) gas produced from decomposing trash, and converting it into electricity.
The EPA refers to this as LMOP (Landfill Methane Outreach Program), which sponsors and funds the installation of electricity producing generators in landfills. The purpose is to divert greenhouse gas emissions and instead turn landfills into profit centers.
In order to comply, plastics must degradable in landfills within 25-30 years, when exposed to the elements. This is done by simply drilling LFG wells, that allow normal degradation to occur and LFG gases to be captured. The technology to cause common plastics to degrade in this desired time frame is widely available.
FACT: There is no scientific proof, visual ASTM verification, that D6400 compostable plastics fully degrade. According to the University of California, Chico, corn starch does not. This is a serious issue. And when it does, what do you think the residual substance will be? D6400 plastics are made from genetically modified (GMO) corn, with a huge question as to what happens with those molecular elements when they degrade? Doesn't it go without saying that if a material degraded 100%, that it would have ASTM verification, such as ASTM G21-09? After all, it is a relatively easy, inexpensive test to conduct.
See the Solutions link as there is a common sense solution that can significantly improve the environment and sustainability. There are plastics that have a higher standard and do comply.
Answer: Air and water quality worsens
. To prevent health hazards from bacteria and viruses, they must be regularly washed (once a week is recommended). Common sense prevails. Would you wear your clothes sevearal times a week without washing them? Reuse bags can harbor bacteria and germs and carry them from store to home...and back again. Plastic bags do not.
It is a well-known fact that residential laundry is one of the greatest sources of pollution to our water supplies, rivers, streams, lakes, ground water, and oceans. The pollution affects every last animal and marine organism.
If reusable bags are washed only once a month (once a week is recommended by health experts), it can represent up to an 8% increase in washings (due to their unsanitary nature most consumers put them in a separate wash). Even at 1/2 that, a 4% increase in washings is enormous. The laundry detergent industry is 6 billion dollars annually in the US. Here’s a visual picture of the potential added volume: Divide the cost of a jumbo economy box of Tide® detergent into $6,000,000,000 and it translates to over 140,000,000 boxes, about 126,000 truckloads.
Fact: An 4% increase in laundry detergent = 5,600,000 more jumbo detergent boxes; 5,040 additional truckloads!
- An additional 13.32 billion gallons of polluted water into the lakes, rivers, oceans, and ground water.
- 5,600,000 new laundry detergent boxes or plastic jugs into the trash stream.
- Exhaust emissions from 630,000 gallons of gasoline (5,080 truckloads).
- Additional pollution from manufacturing operations.
According to the National Center of Biological Information (NCBI)
surfactants used in laundry detergent to help remove dirt and grime from clothes are referred to as anionic or nonionic surfactants are dissolvable products derived from petroleum. They contribute to air and water pollution in both manufacture and worse, disposal.
According to the EPA
, surfactants are toxic to aquatic life. According to the NCBI
all anionic surfactants are harmful to aquatic organisms. Most, if not all, laundry detergents use them. They reduce fish and plankton populations and contribute to lower birth rates. The EPA
also warns of a link between surfactants and disruption to the endocrine system affecting metabolism, normal development, reproductive problems, and birth defects.
Answer: Plastic litter from the United States is a very small part of the Pacific garbage patch.
The plastic in the Pacific patch is primarily generated from slippage in landfills in Asia. Unfortunately too many are near rivers and oceans. Slippage causes landslides and trash then flows into a river's current, into the ocean and into the Pacific current. In many places in Asia, such as China, there is open dumping of trash right into rivers and the ocean. It is a “way to get rid of it”.
In the United States, plastic bags are cited as anywhere from .04% to .8% of all litter. Trash from the west coast of the US that finds its way to the ocean would tend to wash up on the west coast of Baja California in Mexico before going into the Pacific patch. There are no reported issues of litter washing up on the Mexican Pacific coast shoreline.
Much of Asia has been addressing its plastic trash issues. Many Asian countries, led by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, VietNam, Pakistan, and parts of Southern China have adopted laws that requires plastic packaging to be degradable, either bio-degradable or oxo-degradable (initiated by exposure to the sun). Oxo-degradable plastics become bio-available once the disintegration process begins. Degradable plastics can effectively end the litter issue once and for all.
Note: photos of the Pacific garbage patch taken by Tree Hugger, The Daily Green
, and VBS
tend to show a preponderance of other forms of waste such as wood, broken plastic objects, re-use bags and rope. According to National Geographic
there is no visual picture of a large mass of trash, only smaller items such as glass bottles, aluminum cans, medical waste, tires, microplastics, and so on floating entangled above and below the surface. They do not cite plastic bags as a component. Google Images
has no images and posts a "report images" link for "plastic grocery sacks in the Pacific garbage patch". Likewise, photos such as the above are commonly used to depict the supposed patch, but clearly it is a photograph near land, most likely in Asia and is 1000's of mile distant from where the alleged claims are made. See Verification
Answer: More toxins are released into the environment.
For example, even though plastic grocery sacks are called "single use bags", most people reuse them as trash bags (90% or more). The massive ink on the box is greater than the amount of ink used to print the equivalent in plastic sacks. Although they use "non-toxic" inks, they still contain toxic heavy metals. If the consumer uses a paper bag instead, the amount of ink is 3 times that of a plastic bag. If the trash bag box or paper bag is recycled, the ink becomes a contaminant and either washed out and into the water supply (eventually into the oceans, lakes, or groundwater), or; it is carried through into the next product in which it is used, thus increasing its toxicity.
Toxicity is compounded by the large amount of paperboard used to manufacture the retail trash liner material and the toxins generated when boxes are manufactured. For example, there are from 25-50 retail boxes used for 1000 trash bags compared to only one carton (usually recycled material with a single black imprint) for 1000 grocery sacks. It is well known that paper mills are among the worst polluters in the world.
The trash issue is further compounded. The 25-50 retail boxes go into larger cardboard cartons (1-2 or more), which use more ink and create more trash. Plastic grocery sacks don't require additional cardboard cartons since they are packaged and shipped in bulk.
Read Fact #4 about added energy and gas costs.
D6400 bags are an unknown toxic liability
. Since it is made with GMO corn, and uses a two-step approach to manufacturing, it generates a substantial amount of waste that is unaccounted for. Literally the dead GMO enzymes that eat the corn and extract the starch becomes a slurry of unknown toxic quantity. The safe disposal of this waste should be evaluated by unbiased 3rd parties and scientifically verified through ASTM that it is non-toxic and elicits no harm to the environment and the delicate balance of life on planet earth.
Polyethylene is not toxic.
In fact, it is inert. Polyethylene is a hydrocarbon: hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. It is the same chemical make-up as sugar. The only difference is that the molecular chains are very, very long and cannot be eaten by microbes. These long chains don't degrade for 500 to 1000 years. Its long life before degradation begins is an issue that needs to be resolved.
All inks are toxic.
Ink toxicity is less in water-based inks than in oil-, soy-, or alcohol-based inks, but it is still toxic. A good analogy is what would you rather drink...a cup of oil-based paint or acrylic paint? The answer or course is neither. While inks are indeed toxic, the most toxic tend to be red inks (cadmium).
Some reuse bags may actually increase toxins in the environment.
According to the Environmental Agency of Great Britain, plastic bags are 200 times less damaging to the climate than reusable cotton bags. And canvas bags have to be used a minimum of 171 times to reach a break even point. According to one source the Chicobag(TM)
can be used as few as 11 times, but that type of bag is impractical for large grocery purchases. Their claim is not qualified by an independent third party. Read more in Fact #8