What is PLA compostable film?
In appearance many end users will find the Biofilm bags almost identical to the old polypropylene bags. In normal UK retail conditions they are quite stable – they are designed to break down by composting at ‘end of life’ not during storage. Although many of our customers have been using our Biofilm bags since we launched them in 2007 - for those of you who are new to the material, the following information should help to explain the differences between polypropylene bags and their new compostable replacements.
All our Biofilm bags are made in the UK from film that has been accredited to ‘OK biobased’ and DIN EN 13432. They are made from vegetable starch and are fully biodegradable and compostable, which means that they break down to CO2 and water which can then be reused in the eco system to make new plants. This process can happen in either commercial or home composting or landfill but in commercial composting the temperature will be higher and the process is much quicker. (As a guide, the film specs state that it takes approx. 45 days for them to decompose at a constant 58°C - similar to that found in industrial composting.) The biodegradation process uses naturally occuring bacterial / fungi to break down the film into CO2 and H2O and ecotoxic free biomass (compost). In a colder home composter or landfill this will require the presence suitable bacteria / fungi to start the process and it will just take longer. The time scale will largely depend on the local conditions, it will inevitably take longer to compost in the Highlands of Scotland than it does in Cornwall.
Our Biofilm (PLA) bags are made from sustainable and annually renewable vegetable starch which is derived from an annually renewable crop, as opposed to petro-chemical based plastics which are non-renewable. Thereby offering a greener alternative to polypropylene etc. without wasting the planets finite supply of petrochemicals and adding to greenhouse gas emissions.
The shelf life of Biofilm in ideal conditions (at room temperature, kept away from humidity and direct sunlight) should be up to 12 months, but may well be a good bit longer (Some of our original corn starch bags lasted longer but the new vegetable starch bags were only launched last year so until they start to degrade we don't have a definitive time scale). The main thing to maximise shelf life, is to avoid exposure to humidity and excessive heat, moisture and light. So, realistically in normal shop use you should get many months if not a year or more before any degradation could start to show. Biofilm bags are also very stable should they be splashed with water - they don't start to degrade immediately so if wiped off promptly they should come to no harm. Exposure to bright direct sunlight such as in a shop window can result in degradation / discolouration over time, however this is only likely to be a problem in extreme conditions.
Although biofilm (PLA) is quite a versatile material there are some jobs for which it is not suitable. It is more brittle and marks more easily than polypropylene - so is not robust enough for heavy or sharp items. It also needs to be handled with a little more care than polypropylene while packing cards etc. (Hopefully in the future they will be able to develop a more robust version of biofilm.) Also, it is not water proof so is not suitable for containing wet products. (If splashed with water and wiped off straight away they should come to no harm).
Biofilm can't be used for archival purposes and we cannot guarantee them to be 'acid free' for use with valuable paintings etc.
SELF SEAL STRIPS:
Although the Biofilm bags are compostable, the current batch of peel off strips are the same as those used on polypropylene bags. So at present these strips are not compostable but we are working with our supplier towards a biodegradable solution. We’re looking at manufacturing trials with a new material - so hopefully something for the future. Unfortunately though, they're likely to cost a bit more per bag so we are also looking at other options.
There has recently been some confusion between bio-film (PLA) and oxo-degradable plastics. Oxo-degradables are conventional plastics with additives to assist their disintegration into micro-plastic particles. You can therefore be assured that we DO NOT supply oxo-degradable plastics. All of our Biofilm (PLA) and Cellulose bags are biodegradable and compostable – they are NOT oxo-degradable!
According to the Bio-Based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA) recent newsletter Oxo degradable plastics are NOT bioplastics. "Oxo-degradables are conventional plastics with additives to assist their disintegration into micro-plastic particles. Under USA usage, but also in other countries around the world, it is illegal practice to call these plastics biodegradable. Indeed, the European Commission in their 16th January 2018 Plastics Strategy declared they will take measures to limit the use of Oxo plastics in the EU. See http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/pdf/oxoplastics.pdf ".
If disposed of irresponsibly this material can break down into small particles which are the sort of plastic particles shown getting into the food chain on recent news articles and Blue Planet II. Therefore, we will not be stocking any of this material and hopefully the current greenwash from the conventional plastic bag trade about oxo-degradable plastics will come to be seen for what it really is. To see a copy of the BBIA report see http://bbia.org.uk/faq and please feel free to pass it on.
COMPOSTABLE BAG DISPOSAL:
1) Compost Heap: This is what they are designed for so is the best option. (They are suitable for both home and industrial composting)
2) Council Garden waste bin: Although this would work you would need to check with your local council to ensure that that this waste is going for industrial composting. (Also, you could end up 'at odds' with the council for putting what they could view to be the wrong waste in the bin.)
3) Food Waste Bin: This would also be suitable but once again it might be best to check what the council is doing with this waste. (The bags are suitable for anaerobic digestion or industrial composting, if they will allow you to put them in).
4) General Waste Bin: Although possibly not viewed as the perfect option, in landfill they will break down to CO2 and water in much the same way as they would in a compost heap.
5) Recycled Paper and Card Bin: They should not go in with paper for recycling.
6) Recycled Plastic Bag Collections: They should not go in this bin either. Biodegradable and compostable film is made from renewable plant materials, not petrochemicals. It is designed to break down to CO2 and H2O so leaves nothing suitable for recycling unlike traditional plastic bottles etc.
Hopefully this will enable you to choose the best option for environmentally responsible disposal of the biodegradable bags.
THE BIOFILM (PLA) CYCLE:
Biofilm or PLA (Poly-Lactic-Acid) is obtained from corn, potato or other starch/sugar sources.
These plants grow by photo-synthesis, absorbing CO2 from the air, minerals and water from the soil and the energy from the sun;
The starch and sugar content of the plants is converted into lactic acid by micro-organisms by fermentation;
Lactic acid is polymerized and becomes poly-lactic acid (PLA);
PLA is extruded into film and becomes flexible Biofilm packaging;
Once used Biofilm is composted into CO2, water and biomass;
Compost, CO2 and water are then used by plants, and so the cycle continues.
IS BIOFILM (PLA) GM FREE?
Our biodegradable (PLA) film is made from starch derived from potatoes / corn or other vegetables. These crops are not grown just to make the PLA bags so the 'raw materials' are likely to have been sourced from a range of different producers and processing companies. With the wide spread use of GM products, we must therefore assume it probable that at least a small percentage of this starch could have originated from GM crops or from non-GM crops contaminated by proximity to a GM crop. Therefore, we cannot guarantee 100% that these bags will be completely GM free.
It is possible to have bags made to your own requirements subject to a minimum order of 10,000 pieces. For more information you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We believe that in a world where petro-chemical based single use plastics are rarely recycled and many will inevitably end up in landfill or worse still, littering the countryside, using truly biodegradable and compostable bio-film bags can genuinely contribute to solving the environmental problem posed by the disposal of single use plastics and help to create a cleaner planet. We are therefore committed to expanding our range of biodegradable and compostable packaging derived from renewable and sustainable sources. On the down side, we realise that petro-chemical based bags are cheaper to produce than their bio-film alternatives but they do come at a far lower cost to the environment.
For more independent information about the environmental impact of plastics the following websites should be of help:
Friends of the earth https://friendsoftheearth.uk