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]
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.
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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