Retail Plastic Bags – What are the Alternatives?

In the last decade, we’ve seen increasing legislation worldwide, against the use of polythene bags based on their perceived impact on the environment. With levies now in place in both Wales and Northern Ireland, and another about to be introduced in Scotland next October, we’ve created a quick round-up of just some of the alternatives to polythene and their pros and cons.

We’ll continue to update this as new products become available, but here’s our starter for 10!

Retail Plastic Bag Alternatives

PLA (Polylactic Acid)

Pros
More commonly known as corn starch. It’s derived from plant based materials, is sustainable, biodegradable and relatively cheap to produce.

Cons
It can be perceived as cheap looking. It’s brittle, it gives off methane when breaking down, and takes up areas of land that could be used for food production. The brand Keenpac use for this is Mater-bi and they’ve been making great strides in improving the quality/look of the PLA.

Paper

Pros
Coming from plant based cellulose (mainly trees), this material is sustainable and relatively cheap (although not compared to poly). Paper can be recycled providing any finishes are also environmentally friendly.

Cons
Transport costs and therefore CO2 output can be higher, as paper is bulkier than poly.

Cotton/Jute

Pros
Derived from sustainable cotton, these materials are strong and durable. They’re not as cheap as poly but will last multiple times.
Cons
Current research puts the CO2 footprint of this type of bag much higher than that of poly.

Polythene Additives

Pros
The addition of mineral additives such as EPI or D2W to the masterbatch helps the polythene break down much more quickly.
Cons
Poly additives play no part in helping the material to ‘bio-degrade’ which is when natural organisms help in the breakdown of the product. They simply speed up the ‘degradation’ process, which is where the material breaks down naturally without environmental help.

Environmental Accreditations

What do they really mean?
There are a huge number of different environmental schemes, accreditations and logos in the packaging industry. In fact, there are so many they can become quite confusing, especially for consumers. Here are some of the most common ones.

FSC: is an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world’s forests.

Carbon Trust: is a not-for-profit company providing specialist support to help business and the public
sector boost business returns by cutting carbon emissions, saving energy and commercialising low carbon
technologies.

EPI: is a supplier of oxo-biodegradable plastic additive technology.

d2w: is the brand name for Symphony’s oxobiodegradable plastic additive technology.

Carbon neutral: A provider of carbon reduction and carbon neutral programmes.

ISO 14001: Environmental Management System standard.

PEFC: International is an umbrella organisation that endorses national forest certification systems developed through multi-stakeholder processes and tailored to local priorities and conditions.


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