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What Are Environmentally-Friendly Plastic Bags?

B. Miller
B. Miller

Environmentally-friendly plastic bags are a type of bag that is biodegradable, and will break down generally in a few months in a compost bin, rather than over thousands of years in a landfill. They are often made from materials such as corn starch, which decompose much more easily. Some heavier weighted environmentally-friendly plastic bags may be reused multiple times to bring items home from the grocery store, such as the somewhat more popular cloth bags that are now produced. When used properly, these eco-friendly bags can be beneficial to the environment, but it is important not to simply throw them in the trash after use.

In order for environmentally-friendly plastic bags to break down, they require light and air. Simply throwing them in the trash where they will be taken to a landfill likely means they will be covered with pounds of other trash and might never degrade, much like regular plastic bags. It is also possible for them to find their way into rivers and oceans and potentially harm wildlife, also just like regular plastic bags. People who use environmentally-friendly plastic bags should be prepared to compost them in order for the bags to actually break down and not contribute to the amount of trash already on the planet.

An environmentally-friendly plastic bag.
An environmentally-friendly plastic bag.

There are many instructions to be found online for creating a home compost system. It is easy and can even be done on a countertop, and is a great way to use food scraps and yard clippings to create a natural fertilizer for a garden. Bags that are biodegradable can be added to a compost bin, where they will break down and be truly environmentally friendly. One thing to keep in mind is that biodegradable, environmentally-friendly plastic bags are often sold to pick up pet waste.

Environmentally-friendly plastic bags are often made from corn starch.
Environmentally-friendly plastic bags are often made from corn starch.

Again, these pet waste bags should not simply be thrown in the trash, but they also should not be added to a regular compost. It is possible to create a separate compost system just for these bags to allow them to degrade and return to the soil. This compost should not be used in a garden for fertilizer, but it is an eco-friendly way to dispose of pet waste.

Biodegradable bags must be composted.
Biodegradable bags must be composted.

Other types of environmentally-friendly plastic bags might not be biodegradable like the ones mentioned above. These bags might just be made of heavier weight plastic, often with sturdy reinforced handles. These may be used repeatedly to bring groceries home without needing to use the many plastic bags given out in stores. When these are thrown away, however, they will still contribute to the amount of landfill waste on the planet.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a plastic bag environmentally friendly?

An environmentally friendly plastic bag is designed to minimize its impact on the environment. This can be achieved through materials that are biodegradable, compostable, or made from renewable resources. For example, bags made from plant-based materials like cornstarch can break down naturally, unlike traditional plastics which can take hundreds of years to decompose.

Are biodegradable plastic bags truly better for the environment?

Biodegradable plastic bags are better for the environment compared to traditional plastic bags, as they break down more quickly under the right conditions. However, they still require specific environments to degrade properly, and if not disposed of correctly, they can still contribute to pollution. It's essential to follow proper disposal methods to ensure their environmental benefits.

How long does it take for compostable plastic bags to decompose?

Compostable plastic bags can decompose within 90 to 180 days in a commercial composting facility, according to the Biodegradable Products Institute. This is significantly faster than conventional plastic bags, which can take up to 1,000 years to break down in landfills. Home composting rates for these bags may vary depending on environmental conditions.

Can environmentally friendly plastic bags be recycled with other plastics?

Environmentally friendly plastic bags, particularly those that are biodegradable or compostable, should not be mixed with conventional plastics in recycling bins. They require different processing conditions and can contaminate the recycling stream. It's important to check local recycling guidelines or dispose of them in industrial composting facilities where available.

What is the difference between biodegradable and compostable plastic bags?

Biodegradable plastic bags are designed to break down with the help of microorganisms over time, potentially leaving behind some residue. Compostable plastic bags, on the other hand, break down into non-toxic organic matter that can enrich soil, and they must meet specific standards to ensure they decompose within a certain timeframe without leaving harmful residues.

Are there any certifications to look for when choosing environmentally friendly plastic bags?

Yes, certifications can help consumers identify genuine environmentally friendly plastic bags. Look for certifications like ASTM D6400 or EN 13432, which indicate that the bags meet specific compostability standards. The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) also certifies products that are compostable in commercial facilities, ensuring they meet rigorous testing requirements.

Discussion Comments


@pastanaga - Some smaller communities do have joint compost bins, but it's not as common as it could be and I'm not sure that these kinds of bags would work in that situation, because I think they take much longer to compost than the average food scrap.

I'd rather than everyone just decided to grow up and use reusable bags instead of expecting plastic bags.

Even aside from how much litter they create, they are so harmful to sealife it's not funny. Sea turtles are probably going to go extinct in the end because we like our convenience.


@irontoenail - I really think that regions should just commit to either this kind of bag, or not having plastic bags at all. If a whole region had this kind of bag and allowed them to be picked up like any other kind of recycling, I think the problem would basically be solved. Environmentally friendly plastic bags aren't going to do any good unless people are sure what needs to be done with them.

I often wish that we had big processing plants for compost the way we do for waste water. So much food gets wasted otherwise, something like that would be great for a community and as a bonus, they could provide the compost to farmers and stop them from using artificial fertilizers.


I didn't actually know that you had to expose those eco-friendly bags to light and air or put them through the compost for them to decompose. I thought they would simply do it automatically, even if they were thrown out into the landfill.

It's kind of tough, because it's difficult to know what kind of bag you have. It wouldn't be a great idea to put ordinary supermarket bags into your compost.

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    • An environmentally-friendly plastic bag.
      By: Africa Studio
      An environmentally-friendly plastic bag.
    • Environmentally-friendly plastic bags are often made from corn starch.
      By: Sea Wave
      Environmentally-friendly plastic bags are often made from corn starch.
    • Biodegradable bags must be composted.
      By: Tyler Olson
      Biodegradable bags must be composted.