Over one million plastic bags are used every minute in the United States. This means that each person consumes 22 thousand bags over the course of their lifetime. Although recycling has grown over the past several decades, only 13% of plastic bags are recycled. This is because it costs almost $ 4,000 to process and recycle one ton of plastic bags that can only be sold on the commodities market for $ 32.
The rest of these plastic bags end up in our lakes, streams and landfills. On average, 10% of all plastic produced in the US ends up in the ocean. This has a dramatic effect on wildlife. One million birds die each year due to plastic bags ending up in our natural environment. Polluted streams and lakes result in the death of native fish and other fresh water wildlife.
Environmental groups around the globe have been making people aware of these issues for many years. However, many countries, states and local municipalities are just now beginning to regulate, or in some cases, ban the use of plastic bags. Eight countries around the world have enacted complete bans. Here in the US, 25 states have either passed or considered legislation that either bans or puts heavy restriction on their use. This has caused businesses and organizations to look for viable alternatives.
The most popular alternative has been compostable or "bioplastics" These materials are made from components that are derived from renewable raw materials. Bioplastics are not plastics made from petrochemicals with biodegradable additives. They are made from plant-based polymers like wood lignin. This means that they break down quickly when exposed to the natural elements. With higher quality compostable bags, the breakdown process can be completed within 180 days in a compostable environment.
How do the cost of bioplatic bags compare to traditional plastics? Compostable plastic bags are undeniably more expensive in most cases. This is mainly because of the process required to refine and break down the natural products necessary for their production. However, the costs are offset by any fine the EPA or local authorities can impound on businesses around the globe for the use or improper disposal of traditional plastics.
Not only are compostable bags better for the environment, they in many cases improve it. Substances like wood lignin actually enhance soil structure. This results in a more fertile environment for vegetation which leads to more food and shelter for native wildlife. Cities and towns spend less money removing plastics from waste water treatment plants. Lakes and streams are less polluted. The results lead to a more balanced and healthy habitat.