Have you ever wondered why some plastic bags are stronger than others? Why bags from clothing stores at the mall tend to be strong and thick, whereas those from your local grocery store are flimsy and thin? And then there are those wispy, clear bags you get back with your dry cleaning. There are many types of plastic bags, all designed for different purposes.
Plastic bags have made our lives easier in many ways. Unfortunately, they are often not disposed of properly. We see them blowing around in the streets and they often end up in streams and the oceans. These bags can be dangerous to animals, such as turtles, that ingest them or are strangled by them, especially in marine environments where plastic bags resemble jellyfish and other food items.
One solution to this problem is to make degradable bags, such as those from starch. Starch, obtained from corn or potatoes, can be converted into lactic acid, which can be polymerized to the biodegradable plastic known as polylactide. Another solution is to add an ultraviolet-light absorber to make the material degrade when exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately, these solutions can make the plastics more expensive, so they haven’t caught on with consumers.
However, these products are becoming more readily available at a price point that makes sense. Taking these products mass market is the most logical progression, as it will have large and widespread benefits for our planet without doing anything different as consumers. For this to happen, businesses and leaders today must procure and promote biodegradable alternatives.