by Andrea Mustine, IQS Editor
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we are killing the earth, one non-recyclable item at a time. Fixing the damage that has been done to our planet since the dawn of the industrial age is no simple task, nor is preventing further destruction when we continue to create products that will sit in landfills for centuries instead of decomposing back into the natural cycle of life. However, in recent years society has caught on to the environmentally friendly attitude that is turning non-recyclable items into recyclable ones, and manufacturers of a variety of products are following suit. One such example is plastic bags, products that are abundant in our shopping nation. The retail industry utilizes plastic bags in every type of store, including grocery, hardware, home furnishing, clothing and toys, to name a few. Versions of these bags are also used in the medical and shipping industry, and they are also used for storage and movement of parts within manufacturing companies of all sorts. With so many uses, most of which require more then one bag at a time, it is no surprise that the creation and utilization of recyclable plastic bags should be a priority.
Plastic Bags Photos Courtesy of Multi-Pak USA, Inc.
A common solution to the problem of plastic bags and their difficult disposal is the option of using paper bags instead. However, this is not as smart of a decision as one might assume. Recent studies show that even though many kinds of paper are biodegradable, that quality is almost meaningless when paper is disposed of in landfills. In fact, because there is a lack of oxygen, light and water in landfills, which are all necessities for complete degradation, no product is able to fully complete the process. In addition, the amount of energy used to produce paper bags is significantly greater then the energy used to create plastic bags. More pollutants are deposited into air and water when paper bags are manufactured and they are also heavier and bulkier then plastic bags, which means they take up more space in landfills. Finally, recycling plastic takes a minimal amount of energy while recycling paper bags takes nearly 90% more energy to recycle. In conclusion, paper bags are not as environmentally friendly as they are considered to be by the general public. The focus should instead be on how to make plastic bags more “green”.
Plastic Bags Photos Courtesy of Custom Poly Packaging.
There are already certain types of plastic in circulation that are easily recyclable again and again. One example is polyethylene bags, a flexible, anti-static and water-resistant material that goes through the production process quickly and easily and holds up well in a variety of applications and industries. Polypropylene bags are another material example that is sturdy, transparent and contains excellent vapor and moisture barriers. Both of these are thermoplastics, which are able to be melted down once their original purpose has been achieved and reshaped into a new plastic product. Polyethylene and polypropylene will not decompose but are able to be recycled many times. Thermosets are another type of plastic that is not able to be recycled, and such chemical structures should not be produced when the thermoplastics can aid the environment-saving cause.
The way that plastic bags are going “green” is an excellent thing for the manufacturers of plastic products as well as for the consumer and the environment. The low cost of production that applies to a new plastic being produced into various plastic bags also applies to the recycling process that does the exact same thing. The limited amount of atmosphere emissions combined with the amount of energy required to produce and recycle means that plastic bags have a very small net environmental effect. As long as this process of recycling plastic bags and other plastic products continues, and the production of new plastic as well as the disposing of plastics in landfills decreases, this is one environmentally friendly step that will really make a difference.