Difference Between Degradable and Biodegradable Plastic Bags

Difference Between Degradable and Biodegradable Plastic Bags
Authored By Eva

Litter is a visual and environmental pollutant. Large amounts of plastic waste in a landfill inflict damage to natural environments. Non-biodegradable plastic waste is bad for the environment and takes up a lot of landfill space.

Did you know that we use approximately 2 million plastic bags every minute? Given that the lifespan of single-use bags is 12 minutes, these numbers are worrying. To tackle this problem, manufacturers are developing new types of plastic bags.

It can be challenging for consumers to navigate between what is planet-friendly and what is not. Luckily, this post at QQStudio will help you understand the difference between degradable and biodegradable plastic bags. You will also learn how these plastic bags are disparate from traditional ones.

The Problem with Plastic Waste


Averagely, we use a trillion plastic bags every year. Reducing the amount of plastic waste on earth is essential. We have been using plastic bags for packaging, shopping, and throwing away garbage for years. Clearly, there is no dispute that people heavily rely on plastic bags.

Traditional plastic bags are made from polyethylene, a petroleum-based, non-renewable material. Since polythene can take hundreds of years to decompose, high amounts of plastic bag waste have become a problem.

Traditional plastic bags break down into micro-plastics and end up in waterways. Once there, marine fauna can consume the micro-plastics, which means, the waste will find its way into the food chain.

No doubt plastic waste is vast, but does switching to degradable and biodegradable plastic bags help?

What is the Difference Between Degradable and Biodegradable Plastic Bags?


Degradable Plastic Bags


Degradation is the process of breaking down large molecules into smaller fragments. It is caused by oxidation, UV, light, heat, and mechanical factors. It also called oxo-degradable process. Of course, everything degrades, but how and when degradation happens is the issue.

Degradable plastic is plastic that undergoes a change in its chemical structure after being exposed to specific environmental conditions. The chemical compound in degradable plastic bags breaks them down faster compared to traditional polythene bags.

Any degradable plastic bag will eventually break down, but you can’t tell how long it will take to degrade. It will take the time needed depending on the natural environment.

So, are oxo-degradable better than traditional plastic bags?


Experts argue that the plastic bags are not as planet-friendly as consumers think. On the contrary, the only impact is that they degrade faster than polythene bags. Micro-plastics can still find their way into the food chain.

Furthermore, there are cases where the natural environment does not provide enough stress for plastic degradation.

Biodegradable Plastic Bags


Biodegradable means that a substance can be broken down by living things. Hence, biodegradable garbage bags are broken down by fungi and bacteria in the ground.

These bags are typically made from renewable or plant-based raw materials like plant starches (corn, potato, wheat), petrochemicals, or micro-organisms. In addition, biodegradable plastic bags are easier to recycle because the breakdown process is faster.

When such plastics are exposed to the natural environment and degrade, they pose no harm to the ecosystem. This results in an improvement in the pollution caused by polythene bags.

Still, biodegradable plastic bags require some conditions to break down completely. First, the temperature has to be 50 degrees or more. Next, there needs to be enough UV light.

In landfills, the plastics degrade without going through oxidation. This can cause the emission of greenhouse gases like methane, which is more of an environmental threat than carbon dioxide. Researchers and manufacturers are still coming up with ways to make such plastics more biodegradable.

Most of these solutions are not mainstream yet, but at least they are promising in regards to reducing the plastic pollution problem.

Compostable Plastic Bags


Compostable plastic bags are purely made of cellulose. When they are processed, the plant material breaks down into organic fragments. The significant difference between compostable and biodegradable bags is that they require stringent decompose conditions.

These include ideal temperature, micro-organisms, and a specific combination of gases. Consequently, decomposition is favorable in oceans and landfills where there is moisture and heat.

The main problem facing compostable plastic bags is the small number of manufacturing facilities.

What are Plastic Bags Made of?


Degradable and biodegradable plastic is made from the following raw materials:

  • Bacteria-based polymers – All polyesters degrade in a matter of weeks. Bacteria is used during manufacturing to favor the biodegradability rate of the material.
  • Plant-based starch polymers– Such polymers are made of 905 plant starch, e.g., wheat, potato, corn, and tapioca.
  • Water-soluble polymers – They degrade when exposed to water and heat. Plastics made from these polymers have added pro-degradant to speed up decomposition.
  • Photodegradable polymers – These polymers decompose after exposure to UV light. UV breaks down the chemical structure of plastics. Some plastics have UV-sensitive chemicals that speed up decomposition.
  • Oxo-biodegradable polymers – The polymers break down after exposure to natural light, oxidation, heat, or mechanical stress.

Which Option is Better?


The differences between degradable and biodegradable plastic bags are evident: in a nutshell, a degradable bag may take hundreds of years to decompose, and even then, microplastics will remain present. On the other hand, biodegradable bags rely on fungi/bacteria and other environmental stresses to decompose.

Before making a decision, ask yourself these questions:

  • What happens to the plastic bag after you are done using it? Is it recycled, disposed of in a landfill, or converted to energy?
  • Are you planning on using the plastic bag more than once? If so, go for compostable or canvas bags.

Both types of plastic bags are hard to recycle. Plus, depending on the degradation rate, both may leave pollutant by-products in the ground. Therefore, everyone should strive for a plastic-free era to reduce plastic waste. One way of doing this is opting for compostable bags.

In addition, you can minimize consumption by reusing plastic bags. Disposing of the bags after one-time use only adds to the waste and increases pollution. Reusing and recycling is the best option if you can't access zero-waste and plastic-free bags.

Contact us now! Start your custom plan of degradable or biodegradable food packaging bags!