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Consumers confused by ‘biodegradable’ plastic labels

22 Jun 2020

There are many kinds of plastic bags advertised as self-destructing or biodegradable, but consumers have to read the labels and list of input materials to distinguish between those harmful to the environment and human health and those that are safe.

Biodegradable plastic bag turbulence

Plastic bags advertised as self-destructing or biodegradable are commonly sold at traditional markets and supermarkets, and an increasing number of consumers choose them for their reasonable prices and environmentally friendly properties. At supermarkets, made-in-Vietnam biodegradable bags cost from VND50,000 to 90,000 a roll, while products imported from Europe cost VND110,000 a roll.

However, are these bags really safe for the environment? Deputy General Director of An Phat Holdings Group Doan Minh Duc said that there are many products labeled “biodegradable plastic bags” in the Vietnamese market and it is very important to distinguish between two types. Ordinary HDPE plastic products include additives for easy decomposition into micro-plastics, which are more dangerous than conventional plastics as they mix with water and soil and are then swallowed by animals and returned to the human food chain. HDPE is non-biodegradable and can take centuries to decompose, so it is imperative that these bags and containers are recycled and used again. Meanwhile, entirely biodegradable biological products are made from environmentally friendly materials, which completely decompose into water and carbon dioxide (CO2) and organic humus.

Many consumers do not correctly identify fully biodegradable products because they are not sufficiently informed. Therefore, it is necessary to raise people’s awareness about choosing the right products and provide instructions for optimal usage of fully biodegradable bags.

Identifying biodegradable plastic bags

Biodegradable plastic bags are usually white or transparent, and smooth. Despite its thinness, this type of bag is as durable as traditional plastic bags but costs twice as much. “With superior properties over conventional plastic products, production of this fully biodegradable product requires very high international standards. Now, due to strict production processes with imported raw materials and fully biodegradable standards (Ok Compost Home and Ok Compost Industrial), the prices of biodegradable plastic bags are quite high compared to conventional plastic products,” said Doan Minh Duc.

According to Associate Professor, Dr. Dang Thi Cam Ha of the Institute of Biotechnology, biodegradable bags under the impact of microorganisms in the environment will convert into water and CO2 or form simple organic substance and dissolve in the environment, while so-called self-destructing plastic bags only crumble into very small pieces, under the effects of chemicals used by manufacturers, and then disperse in the environment.

According to partial data, each Vietnamese household uses 5-7 plastic bags a day. Biodegradable plastic bags decompose completely after six months to two years or even longer, depending on environmental conditions. “Therefore, the use of plastic bags is still a burden on the environment. Do not think it is good to use as many biodegradable bags as possible,” warned Associate Professor, Dr. Dang Thi Cam Ha.

Source: Vietnam Economic News

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