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Biodegradable Bags: "Side Effects"

Biodegradable Bags:

By Carlos Martínez-Orgado

According to the criteria of the European recycling society, expressed in the new waste framework Directive, the option of the reusable bag should be indisputably a priority over any recyclable bag. The EU clearly distinguishes both concepts by the number of rotations.


Both in the content of the PNIR and in the text of the draft bill currently submitted to public information, the Ministry opts for the replacement of conventional single-use plastic bags with other biodegradable or oxodegradable ones.

It is curious that the Ministry has defined itself by the criticized French model. Indeed, a couple of campaigns ago the French Parliament approved a regulation promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture in favor of biodegradable bags made from raw materials of an agricultural nature. The then French Minister of the Environment publicly disagreed with this solution, since in her opinion what was environmentally desirable was a transition to the reusable bag. I fully agree with this lady's criteria, and I can't quite understand the reason for embracing the cause of biodegradable versus reuse.

It is clear that if it is in tune with the criteria of the European recycling society, expressed in the new framework Directive on waste, the option of the reusable bag should be indisputably a priority over any recyclable one. That said, I would add that, secondly, any substitution between recyclables should have the objective of improving the conditions for this purpose.

I cannot resist making a comment out of skepticism. It gives the impression that some administrations with a "manifestly improvable" management plan to save the legislature by "making blood" with plastic bags. Heaven save me from becoming the apostle of bags, but I wish that these were not the only way to green government actions.

Many times the anger is justified by the plastic bags in which they are swarming through fields, mountains and beaches. Nothing more certain. But this shit is not going to be solved by exchanging some bags for others. It is true that environmental damage can be minimized but it is also true that it is time to engage in an anti-littering crusade, which has a lot to do with the education of personnel. The dirt with which we live in Spain is not a necessary evil. It is an unequivocal sign that, even if we win in football, we still need a boil to walk around the world. We all know streets, fields, mountains and beaches in "foreign land" where soups could be eaten on the ground if such were our whim.

I remember an anecdote that Domenech Cucurrull told me that he witnessed. Our friend was walking through the streets of Zurich on a cold winter night when he spotted a Swiss citizen determined to cross the threshold of the cogorza based on liquidating all the beer bottles contained in a box. The guy opened a bottle and drank it, and immediately afterwards he threw the container into the glass container, next to which he had placed the bench where he sat.


One of the circumstances that aggravate the environmental problems in Spain caused by single-use plastic bags is that they are free. Indeed, until recently these bags were graciously "given away" in supermarket checkouts "a bit and a bit." This makes it worthless for the citizen. The industry maintains that it is a consumer requirement. I maintain that I prefer that they give me the 5 Jotas ham and that they charge me for the plastic bag. It's a bit demagogic, but I've always been very successful in my talks. But seriously, putting a value on the stock market would be the beginning of awareness.

Another issue that is frequently confused, even in other legislatures by the Ministry itself, is the difference between “second use” and “reuse”. Using a bag to carry the snack is a second use but it is not reuse. Filling a bag with garbage is a second use but it is not reuse either. In addition, curiously I have seen how there are municipalities where this second use is promoted and at the same time prohibited in ordinances of 20 years ago, where the use of specific bags was forced. At this point the question is to replace the conventional bag with the biodegradable one in general terms it has no appreciable effects in relation to prevention. It could be argued that it does have them in terms of qualitative prevention due to their recyclability. But this is not so clear. It could also be argued from the environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of the product. It is also not so clear. When I say that it is not so clear I mean exactly that. I say that it would be very important to study the issue in depth so as not to fall into a catch-phrase that makes the remedy worse than the disease.

If the question is analyzed from the point of view of mechanical recycling we find the first doubts. There are empirical studies, of presumable solvency, and others of an experimental nature, which make it possible to ensure that the pellets obtained by mechanical recycling with a mixture that does not exceed 8% of a single type of biopolymer can be used for the manufacture of new products (pipes and bags fundamentally). From this percentage it is not possible to ensure, to date, that the pellets can be used, and even less if it is a mixture with more than one type of biopolymer. What can be affirmed, with the results of the aforementioned studies, is that from a 20% mixture, the pellets are rendered useless for the manufacture of the final products for which it is currently intended. In addition, there is no certainty about the impact that these mixtures could have on the final product that is manufactured, that is, if the degradability itself, inherent in the raw material with which it has been manufactured, would affect its mechanical and physical conditions for its use and in what terms.

From a composting point of view things are not so immediate either. Experiences similar to those mentioned above seem to show that existing biodegradable bags require a permanence in the tunnels of between three to four times longer than normal garbage, reaching percentages that in half of the cases do not even reach 30% biodegradation for the typical residence times of the material to be composted, exceeding this percentage, very rarely, above 60%. In the case of batteries, the situation improves somewhat, given that the residence times are much higher, on the order of 4 times, which means that for some types of biodegradable bags, much less all, it is possible to reach percentages close to the 90%. However, the problem is aggravated because this technology tends to disappear and be replaced by tunnel technology. The studies carried out open the possibility of analyzing whether with the crushed bags it would be possible to achieve better percentages of biodegradation, which remains to be seen and would, in any case, lead to the practical need to generate its own flow of biodegradable bags to make the system efficient . The question then is, where are the biodegradable bags thrown into the bucket? To the bucket of the rest? In your case, what about organic matter? The citizen will have to distinguish between the bags they use, knowing their origin to throw them in one container or another. It seems to me that we are demanding too much.

In France, this whole issue is solved because all bags are incinerated. But were these saddlebags necessary for this trip? Obviously the objective of the substitution cannot be this.

On the basis that I am in favor of making the maximum efforts in the reusable bag, I do not oppose the substitution in single-use bags of conventional bags for biodegradable ones. But it seems to me that one should be prudent to analyze within a life cycle concept the real improvements that the change will mean. And identify the strengths and weaknesses of this process to address it with the greatest guarantees, including environmental ones.

I believe that this is not a unique case. It is impossible to seriously advance in environmental objectives without analyzing and studying specific cases. It is very difficult to try to give uniform solutions to an immensity of cases that are not. This is bad news for fans of the slogan and makes the great job not to legislate but to manage and develop what is legislated. This is not a negative, but an exciting challenge.

Carlos Martinez-Orgado -21 Jul 2010 - http://carlosmartinez-orgado.org/


Video: FRANCE 24 Environment - The plastic trap (August 2021).