Bio-plastic bag boom ‘imminent’

'Eco-plastic bags' are about to get greener with a new process that replaces petrol derivatives with sunflower oil. The new material will make its entry just as vegetable-derived plastic market is set to rocket, with both France and Italy soon to ban single-use non-biodegradable bags.

“Supply will become an issue. The market is expanding very rapidly,” said Tony Breton of Novamont, one of the world’s biggest bio-polymer producers. Speaking at the IWWE environmental show in Dublin this week, he added: “In the past the core markets have been Italy, Germany, France and Holland, but in the last 18 months or so the rest of the world seems to have woken up to biodegradable bags and compostable rubbish collections.”

Apart from the UK and Ireland, ‘green’ plastic bags are making it big in the “more progressive” US states.

“We are expanding production from 20,000 tonnes per year that we produce now to 60,000 tonnes next year,” said Tony Breton. Throwaway plastic bags will be banned in Italy as soon as this year, with France set to follow suit in 2010.

Novamont will open a new plant near Rome, soon to start producing the new corn-and-sunflower plastic – with some oil derivative left in the mix, however. “We could make it 100% vegetable, but the cost would be too high,” Tony Breton explained.

The material is used to make not just biodegradable, but compostable plastic bags. This means they can be thrown into the compost with the kitchen waste they contain.

“They’re meant for composting – people can buy biodegradable bags if they are to go to landfill, it would be a waste of money to use compostable bags if they are not to be composted,” said Sue Walker of Ecosac, the UK-based company that turns Novamont’s raw material into small kitchen waste bags and bin liners, complete with vegetable-ink prints that ensure the bags are 100% compostable.

The good news, apart from the environmental benefits, is that compostable bags cut out the smell that plagues the kitchens of composting enthusiasts. In fact, the odour factor draws as many clients as environmental considerations do, and gets people who were otherwise discouraged by the smells recycling, said Sue Walker:

“If you want people to recycle, you have to make it easy and convenient for them. Experience shows that they just won’t regularly wash out smelly bins because it’s good for the planet.”

Odour minimisation is not the only non-eco benefit of compostable bags. As well as environmentalists’ compost heaps, Italian corn-derived plastic bags are used by Prada, chosen by the designer fashion house for their soft-to-the-touch texture.

Goska Romanowicz

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