We would like to acknowledge Zero Waste South Australia, as part of the content below was taken from their 'The Bin Liner Dilemma' handout.
The phasing out of lightweight shopping bags has left many people asking whether degradable plastic bags provide an environmentally friendly alternative bin liner.
Current bin liner options for you at home include:
- Not using a bin liner
- Newspaper, which can be used to wrap food waste
- Degradable plastic bags
- Non-degradable plastic bags (including traditional supermarket carry bags and purchased bin liners)
There is never a completely ‘environmental impact- free’ solution to the bin liner dilemma. This is why it's important to consider a range of issues when deciding on a preferred disposal method. Also, always keep in mind the need to reduce the amount of waste produced at work or in the household in general.
No Bin Liner
Abandoning a bin liner altogether is beneficial as it reduces the volume of solid waste entering landfill. While this may still have some perceived environmental impacts (such as harsh detergents and washing out the bucket more frequently), they can be minimised by using pure soap or only water instead, which is then safe and beneficial for reuse in gardens.
With reduced waste, daily household rubbish can fit nicely in a small kitchen bin. Using small bins and emptying them regularly can help keep kitchen odours at bay. It’s easy to do without a bin liner and empty your rubbish directly into your wheelie bin. Simply rinse your bin out once a week to prevent mould or grime.
Compared to plastic bags it's less likely to have impacts on wildlife if littered. Also, only food items would need wrapping. One downside is methane production when it breaks down in landfill.
Though the most important reason to avoid using large amounts of paper is that Australia is the world leader in newspaper recycling. Australians divert about 78% of newsprint from landfill. If everyone started using only newspaper to wrap waste, it would remove valuable amounts from the recycling stream, adding pressure on virgin forestry resources.
Degradable Plastic Bags
You need specific temperatures and conditions to begin decomposition of oxo-degradable plastics. These may not break down completely in landfills or will do so slowly and generate methane in anaerobic environments.
Several organisations, multinationals and NGO's have come together to call for a ban on oxo-degradable plastics. Ranging from Greenpeace, WWF, EcoCycle and Coca Cola, Veolia, Amcor, Unilever, Nestle etc.1
European Bioplastics has long been warning about the potentially harmful effects of oxo-degradable plastics on the environment as well as the potential damage to the reputation and image of truly biodegradable plastics.
Look for 100% biodegradable and compostable bags made from plant starch and not a mix of petrochemicals and biomaterials. Though keep in mind that any products designed to biodegrade in landfill settings are not necessarily more environmentally friendly. "Methane results when materials biodegrade under anaerobic conditions in a landfill. To mitigate climate change, we need to STOP biodegradable materials from entering landfills, not encourage more landfill disposal. To be considered green or sustainable, products should be designed to be reused, recycled, or composted."2,3
Non-Degradable Plastic Bin Liners
Purchased bin liners are generally larger than shopping bags and need less frequent emptying. Their use may result in reduced plastic use, as a large single garbage bag is likely to carry more waste than supermarket shopping bags.
Paying for plastic bags (whether degradable or normal plastic) may act as a small financial incentive to reduce the amount of waste landfilled and encourage recycling.
But remember long-term our efforts should be about reducing the demand for plastics of any sort.
Bin liners at the University
The above mentioned information is about personal bin liners for use at home. This is not to be confused with the bin liners for university wide bins. We receive a number of queries from concerned staff/students with regards to our use of bin liners.
Clear plastic bin liners are used to distinguish the recycling from the black bags of landfill waste.
Cleaners must empty the contents of the clear plastic bags into the recycling wheelie bins and reuse them as much as possible. They will often put all bags (clear and black) into the same trolley for transport. This will then be separated into the respective waste streams back of house.
All bin liners will eventually end up in landfill as there are no composting or recycling opportunities currently available for them. Therefore, any “biodegradable” or “degradable” bin liners have not been used.
1. New Plastics Economy Oxo-degradable plastic not a solution to plastic pollution (PDF)
2. Foresight USA, 2014 Biodegradable Plastics: Let’s Clear Up The Confusion
3. Platt, Brenda. "Biodegradable Plastics: True or False? Good or Bad?" Sustainable Plastics. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2014
Zero Waste SA, The Bin Liner Dilemma (PDF)
Plastic Bag Free NSW, https://plasticbagfreensw.squarespace.com/solutions/
Pollution Prevention Resource Center, What are the Benefits and Drawbacks to Oxo-degradable Bags?