Media Releases | 31st May, 2004

Don't be fooled by dodgy degradeable bags

Tuesday, 1 June 2004

Consumers should not be fooled by the dodgy environmental credentials of degradeable plastic bags.

Shoppers should avoid plastic bags which claim to be “degradable” as they merely break down into smaller pieces, still contaminating the environment and posing a risk to animals, said Environment Victoria Sustainable Consumption Director Jenny Henty.

“Some small supermarkets and retail outlets are offering degradeable bags, which are misleading customers into thinking these will biodegrade like compost,” said Ms Henty.

“Consumers can easily confuse degradeable bags with biodegradeable ones. But in terms of the environment, degradeable plastic is dangerous. It should be banned.

“Just because degradeable plastic breaks into smaller pieces does not make it better. In fact it poses a risk to smaller animals, such as turtle hatchlings, and still clogs landfill.

“Ideally shoppers should just say no to plastic bags and bring their own instead.”

The warning follows a ruling by the ACCC last week that found environmental claims made by manufacturer Lloyd Brooks about their plastic kitchen, garbage and freezer bags were misleading. Lloyd Brooks could not substantiate claims that its Earthstrength bags would be biodegradeable in 28 days when composted.

There are many different types of degradeable bags, including those that are broken down by light, water, or air. There are currently few biodegradeable bags available.

A report commissioned by state and federal environment ministers suggests all types of degradeable and biodegradeable bags could increase greenhouse gas emissions, which are released as the bags break down.

There are 6.9 billion plastic bags used each year in Australia, 50 million of which end up as litter. Only 3 per cent of plastic bags are recycled. About 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags each year.

Retailers must reduce the number of plastic bags they use by 25 per cent by the end of this year and by 50 per cent by 2005, according to a voluntary code of practice.

“The best option for shoppers is to avoid using plastic bags. Manufacturers should make all packaging biodegradeable, refillable or recyclable. And degradeable plastics should be banned.”