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Bag it (Part 1)

Posted Friday 1st March 2013, 1:00pm
Bag it (Part 1)

A few years ago the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released information about biodegradable, degradable or recyclable claims on plastic bags. Yes, as a consumer it’s confusing as nearly everything these days is described as having some eco-credential so how can we be sure? Is it greenwash? So the ACCC outlined under the Trades Practices Act 1974 how these terms should be used: [source link]

  • Environmentally friendly, environmentally safe, planet safe or green are vague claims that could mislead consumers into thinking that a product causes no, or minimal, harm to the environment in its production, usage and disposal. In reality, almost all products have some adverse impact on the environment at some stage in their life cycle. These claims cannot be used unless they can be supported through verifiable testing methods.
  • Degradable - material can be called degradable under particular environmental conditions if it undergoes degradation to a specified extent within a given time measured using a relevant and identified standard test method. Most substances will degrade or deteriorate given sufficient time and exposure to the right conditions, so to claim that a product is ‘degradable’ without qualifying how the process occurs may be misleading.
  • Biodegradable - no single understanding of or definition for ‘biodegradable’ exists. The term itself may convey a range of meanings to consumers and should not be used indiscriminately. As with any unclear or uncertain term, extra care should be taken to avoid misleading consumers and breaching the Trade Practices Act.
  • Recycling - consumers may assume that a recycling claim means that something has been through a previous life cycle or has been recycled by another consumer. However, if only some of the material has been recovered and reused, the amount of pre-consumer and post-consumer waste included in the product should be specified.
  • 100% biodegradable or 100% degradable - this descriptor is an absolute claim that usually means entirely’ or ‘totally’. Describing a product as ‘100% biodegradable’ or 100% degradable indicates that the whole of the product will biodegrade or degrade in the same way and over the same time period - and that’s not likely.

You should know that Australia has no mandatory standard on biodegradability or degradability but a voluntary Australian Standard does exist: AS 4736-2006, Biodegradable plastics - Biodegradable plastics suitable for composting and other microbial treatment. This document outlines the strict requirements for the timeframe in which a product must break down in a commercial composting environment, its toxicity and the amount of organic material it contains.

At dog parks the majority of us do the right thing and collect our dogs’ poo in plastic bags before disposing of it. But one of the main questions I get asked is what about the plastic bags - can they be used in a biogas generator (i.e. anaerobic digester)? What are the concerns? Click to view larger images and note which of the above terms are used to describe each bag.

SkooperboxEnviroGreenBecauseWeCareCrown PolyEnvironmental EnterprisesBioBag

In regard to biodegradable bags, anaerobic digesters require specific bags. Most bags that claim to be biodegradable, as described above, may not function properly in a digester. They contain a chemical additive that causes the bag to break up into smaller fragments, but not entirely decompose or dissolve. In addition, these bags are designed to degrade in the presence of oxygen (and/or UV from sunlight), something not found in either a landfill or anaerobic digester!  That said, commercial bags do exist that passes scientific testing for anaerobic digestion and that can be trusted. They are made out of a special polymeric resin that is essentially 100% carbon, leaving no harmful residues behind after decomposition. It is these bags that Poo Power! aims to use.

At the Sustainable Living Festival 2013, compostable bags from BecauseWeCare were being given away and in the next post we’ll discuss what is ‘compostable’ and how it differs to ‘biodegradable’.

A final thought: our friends at Melbourne Water work very hard in stormwater awareness and education. Each year about 500 billion litres of water containing various forms of litter such as plastic bags and dog poo enters our rivers, creeks and bays via stormwater drains. This is a good reminder for Clean Up Australia this weekend, so remember to pick up after your dog every time so our parks and rivers are clean and safe for everyone to use.

[Main image: source]

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Diesel is an inspiration. Plus he makes some of the poo. Diesel is proof that one pooch can make a difference.

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