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Pollution Could Be Reduced Using New Biodegradable Plastic Bags, Researchers Say

Oct 05, 2015 05:27 PM EDT
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A team of scientists from OU's Integrated Waste Systems (IWS) research group have been working to create a new type of biodegradable single-use plastic carrier bag. This new material could ultimately replace common plastics, would be completely recyclable, and would have no harmful effects on plants or animals, according to a news release.  

Common plastic grocery bags are made from fossil fuel derived polyethylene but biodegradable plastics are made from renewable raw materials such as cornstarch, which can break down into carbon dioxide, water or biomass. Biodegradable plastics undergo biological decomposition from naturally occurring microorganisms, such as bacteria. While OU researchers are still developing their design, they hope to have their biodegradable bags ready within the next year.

In the meantime, stores in England have recently started charging five pence for every single-use plastic carrier bag customers use. Similar regulations in Wales have successfully reduced plastic bag consumption by 80 percent over the past three years, the release noted.

In the U.S., California became the first state to impose a statewide ban on the use of plastic bags in large retail stores in 2014. Some locations charge 10 cents for the use of recycled paper bags, reusable plastic bags and compostable bags.

These initiatives are targeted at limiting the number of plastic bags that end up in landfills; however, the development of biodegradable bags could alleviate this additional cost of shopping.

Encouraging consumers to use biodegradable bags and materials has its advantages, in that society moves away from a linear economic model based on "take, make, dispose." This model relies on an infinite supply of resources and energy, which we know is not possible, and instead enables people to maximize the limited resources that are available.

A video regarding the development of biodegradable plastic bags can be found online, courtesy of YouTube. 

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-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

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