Compostable Bags: Choosing When to Use Them and What Kind
"Bioplastics" are a hot topic on the environmental front recently and honestly, they're quite confusing. There is no simple definition of what a bioplastic contains or how it decomposes. In a nut shell, it's a plant based plastic. So...yeah, I was pretty lost as to what that meant too. Given all the confusion around bioplastics and what they actually contain, I usually recommend people avoid them altogether. There are however times when I use them and other people may want to use them as well. If you find yourself in a situation where you're choosing a bioplastic product, there are certain things you should look for to make sure it is really better for the environment.
First off, look for whether the product is labeled "biodegradable" or "compostable". Biodgradable doesn't mean a lot these days. It usually indicates that a product will break down into small parts that theoretically won't degrade the soil quality. It doesn't necessarily mean that the product will break down into nutrients for the soil. The word "compostable" is a better indicator that the product is actually designed to be integrated back into the soil.
There is also a difference between industrially compostable and back-yard compostable. If a product is industrially compostable, it will be labeled as such with a certification stamp. That means that the product must be disposed of in a specialized facility in order to break down. It might not break down if disposed of in your compost pile out in the yard. Items that are back-yard compostable can also be labeled with a certification stamp. Some items like paper and wood though won't be marked because it is assumed common knowledge that they will compost. Items that will break down in your back-yard are usually the most "plant based" but are also the hardest to find in stores.
Finally, I recommend you look into the company and ask questions about their product. Will they tell you any of the ingredients? Are they actively trying to reduce their waste stream and waste in other products they sell? Is the packaging also made from compostable materials and plant based inks? None of these are a sure sign that the "bioplastic" item is really a better option, but I like to think that companies that truly care about bettering the planet will show it in all areas of their business.
So let's talk about compostable bags - one of the most frequently found bioplastic items in grocery stores these days. And something I have used and researched quite a bit! If you want to just avoid them, go for it. As I said above, that is often the easier option. But some municipalities require trash to be bagged when set out. Other people may have to bring their compost to an industrial facility in some sort of container. And then there are also people that just want to use bags and are tired of the plastic trash liners! So whether or not you want to use them (no judgement here!), here is the research for those that do :)
Over the last several months I have tested three different brands of industrially compostable bags and researched their environmentally friendly-ness. None of these are designed to be disposed of in your back-yard. But if you don't have access to an industrial facility, I still recommend using a compostable bag instead of a regular trash one. I chose two of the following brands because I could purchase them locally and the third company, Full Circle, reached out to me to offer their product for review.
Certified Compostable Food Waste Bags by If You Care
These food waste bags are made from potato starch and compostable polymer. The potatoes they use are grown specifically for their starch and not for food. The potatoes are also non-GMO. This information is printed right on the box which I highly appreciate. The bags are made without any plasticizers or polyethylene. The product is made in France.
The food waste bags are in a cardboard box made from 100% recycled board processed without chlorine. The package is sealed shut with a small bit of glue with no plastic tape or stickers on the inside or outside.
Bio Bags Compost Pail Liner by Classic Kitchen Basics
These pail liners are made from GMO-free starches and Mater-Bi. According to the Bio Bag website, "Mater-Bi® is an innovative family of bioplastics that uses substances obtained from plants, such as but not limited to, non-genetically modified corn starch, and biodegradable/compostable polymers obtained both from renewable raw materials and fossil raw materials." The Mater-Bi resin is produced in Italy and then shipped to the USA for production in the bags.
The pail liners are in a cardboard box closed with a cardboard flap. There are no adhesives, tape, or stickers used to seal the box.
Fresh Air Compostable Waste Bags by Full Circle
These waste bags are made with starch from corn production and a plastic additive. On their website under What's it made of?, they list the ingredients as "plant based plastic". The product is made in China.
The waste bags are in recyclable paper board (#23 PPB) which opens when pressure is put on the punched line. Inside the waste bags are wrapped in a compostable bag and then held together with a plastic sticker.
As you can see, there are lots of differences between compostable bags and the companies that produce them. And honestly, I might choose a brand to buy that you wouldn't depending on what I prioritize. I recommend looking at any product you're interested in and asking a few key questions:
Is the company transparent about what the product is made of?
Is it in recyclable or compostable packaging?
Is the product made in the USA?
Is the product sold locally in stores?
Can I do without this product in the first place?
If you're happy with all the answers, buy it knowing you did your research and were an informed consumer. After trying out three different brands of compostable bags, I can't say that any one was particularly bad. But I will say that If You Care stood out with their transparency and product packaging. I am now well informed if I choose to buy their product again. Even so, I might just skip the bag altogether now and carry my compost to the curb in a bucket!
Which one would you choose?
*None of these reviews were paid for by any of the companies, although Full Circle did send me a free box to use for my review.