The truth behind the ‘Bio-Bag’.

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Jorim-Paul Phillips

It’s no secret that plastic is bad for the environment and unfortunately for us, we consume far more than we should. From plastic food wrappers to plastic buckets, it can be safe to say that plastic plays a big part of our everyday lives.

Despite its multiple forms and uses, it is not the most durable substance and therefore it is prone to breaking, wearing out and melting. But you know all this, so what am I ranting incessantly about? The answer is ‘single-use plastics’. 

‘Single-use plastics’ mean exactly what they’re called; plastics that only get used once (or used a single time). Things such as plastic bags, bottles, food wrappers and more.

They are the worst type of rubbish because after they get used once, they get thrown straight into the trash, never to be used again. Because Samoa doesn’t have the resources to recycle plastic, it ends up either in the Tafa’igata dump or in our surrounding environment. So in order to create awareness in regards to single-use plastics I’ve decided to write an exposé on the commonly used ‘biodegradable plastic bag’.

The bio-bag is thought to be a great substitute for plastic bags because it can do what plastic bags can’t, which is biodegrade (hence the name Bio-degradable Bag). It is made from starch-rich, ‘plastic-like’ material that is sourced from crops.

However, it takes a long time for it to do so and it requires very specific conditions. This substitute plastic bag may be a good idea in theory but when it comes to it’s practicality, it doesn’t solve any of the problems that we’ve been facing in regards to plastic pollution. Here is why I don’t support the Bio-bag.

The bio-bag is a common item in Samoa (and in many countries around the world). Most shops here have adopted it as a way to help minimize the amount of plastic waste produced.

Unfortunately not many people bother to take the time out and read what is printed on its surface. On one of the colored bullet points printed on the front of the bag it states that the bio-bag “starts to decompose after 180 days under the soil with need of oxygen and inducement.” That one sentence basically sums up its whole decomposition process. If you read it properly, you will come to realize that there are a few more instructions and conditions to the so-called ‘biodegradable bag’.

So we know that in order for it to biodegrade it has to be in very specific conditions (i.e. underneath oxidized soil), but I know for a fact that majority of Samoa’s population do not go and dig a hole for their bio-bags. Instead almost all of our bags go straight into the rubbish (or out the window) once they have served their purpose and eventually they all accumulate at the rubbish dump. 

Did you know that there is very little to no oxygen at landfills? Because of the lack of oxygen and the intense build up of both organic and inorganic rubbish at dumps, bacteria in a landfill produce a lot of Methane gas (a poisonous greenhouse gas which is flammable) instead. Since there is no oxygen (which is needed in the decomposition of bio-bags), the bio-bag is regarded to be as bad as plastic bags.

If they do break down, they do so into small pieces. This is especially bad for the different animals that live in our surrounding environment. The little pieces of plastic bag that are left end up being digested by animals such as birds and fish; which in turn kills them. A lot of times the whole bag ends up in the ocean, which poses a huge threat to many (if not all) marine life. 

This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. We need to convert to paper bags or to use our own bags in order to save the environment. There is currently a petition being taken around Samoa with an aim to ban these single-use plastics in our country and to change it to more sustainable alternatives instead. It is being run by ‘The Envirobassadors’ (a youth environmental group).

One of the ways you can help is by signing and sharing their online petition (to do so, visit their Facebook page, ‘The Envirobassadors’). If you do get a chance to sign the petition in person, I highly recommend that you do so because you too will be contributing towards saving our environment.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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