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Biodegradable versus Compostable bags?

Biodegradable versus Compostable bags?

Why we choose compostable bags and what we learned in the process.

So why worry about what bags are made out of? Well if you live in California they have already been banned. 99 percent of all plastics are made from fossil fuels, all requiring massive amounts of energy to produce, in addition to the raw materials needed to produce plastic(also Fossil Fuel). We all know that plastic waste is becoming a serious problem and its becoming a problem we can and can’t see with the breakdown of plastic into all of these small particles. When plastics degrade, they break down into smaller pieces releasing toxic chemicals along the way polluting everything around them, the food we eat, the water we drink, and even the air we breathe. Micro plastics(particles to small to see) have been found in just about every place, Shellfish in Oregon, Rivers in Montana, Earthworms in Michigan, Bottled and Tap Water, and even Snow in the Arctic!  The toxins released also pose a problem, while not typically an acute issue, it is a chronic issue that compounds over time with more exposure. Sea turtles with straws in their nose, birds feeding their young plastic and in turn starving to death, and deer dying from ingesting plastics are all examples of acute issues with plastics. This can all get pretty depressing and sad, but there is a brighter side and there are individuals and businesses changing that.

Be the change. Vote with your dollars.

Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you!

We try to be responsible and conscious about what and where we get any product from. If you don’t agree with how chickens are raised in conventional chicken houses, but still eat at Chicfila, hate to break it to you but you are supporting the way those chickens are raised by buying that chicken sandwich.

When we thought about the amount of plastic bags a market farmer has the potential to distribute out at the farmer’s market, we quickly realized we would become part of the plastic problem. We strive to reduce our footprint and waste in our house and supporting the use of more plastic just does not align with that in our business. Luckily after a lot of research we were able to find some truly compostable bags that we can take to market!

Now what we learned might surprise you(maybe not). There is a lot of what is called greenwashing, terms are used that make consumers “think” they are sustainable or green when they are not or only partially. Effectively hiding the truth about their products/ingredients or providing misleading information that confuses consumers. A marketing tactic that quite effectively sells a product under false assumptions.

Here are some terms we came across that you might be surprised mean:

  • Biodegradable– Typically means, the product degrades in the environment into more basic components. There is no consideration to toxins released, if the product persists as tiny particles or what the product is made of. This definition could be stretched to even include plastic, as it typically is! Think of it like this, Glyphosate and DDT are biodegradable. DDT breaks down into two chemicals DDD and DDE that become more toxic and dangerous than DDT! AND Glyphosate persists over a year in soil. Then ends up in the crops being grown. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want to be ingesting small amounts of these chemicals every day, yet they are all technically biodegradable.
  • Compostable(or Industrial Compostable) – This term is also not what you think. Yes, technically products under this label are compostable, but to what extent and by what processes are the questions. To start, these products require specific amounts of air, moisture and temperature to remain constant in order to compost, something a home compost pile cannot do. The shear amounts of energy required to break these “compostable” products down is crazy. Compostable products are usually made with a compound called PLA (Polylactic Acid) that is derived from corn(yes, it is GMO corn). A Smithsonian study found that PLA bottles can persist in a landfill for 100-1000 years! PLA requires a specific environment to degrade that general or home composting cannot maintain. PLA requires what is considered an industrial composting facility, of which there are very few, all requiring a massive amount of resources to process waste. So we are using energy to create products that take more energy to compost? Even in this type of environment it takes being heated to 140 F and fed a steady diet of digestive microbes for 3 months. Try keeping your house at 140 degrees for 3 months, the power bill would be outrageous!
  • Home Compostable – This is where the gold is, products that are home compostable are made from renewable sources and fully compost in a compost pile at home with no toxic or harmful substances! Products can be put into a home compost pile(as long as the pile is working) will degrade in beautiful compost to be used.

Unfortunately, the subject is intentionally very grey in some areas warranting a lot of time and research involved.  After all that time we were able to find the truth and responsible suppliers. While ideally we wouldn’t use bags at all, as a society we just aren’t there yet, so these will do until then. The lettuce bags we are using are made by a company called Econic based in New Zealand. They sell other cool bags(like coffee bags) but we are focusing on salad bags for our lettuce.

The bags, LETTUCE BAGS, are a product called EcoClear and are made specifically for produce. We have tested lettuce to be good for at least 7 days, which is perfect for typical salad mix use. They are good at keeping moisture out and sealing(an adjustable heat sealer is necessary). The bags will take typically 7 months to compost in our pile.

During our research we were able to find a supplier that produces truly compostable bags for our other produce needs. These bags are from a company called BioBag, they have a pretty large distribution and are in some major chain stores. However, most of their products offered in stores are industrial  compostable. Home compostable products are found mostly online through quite a good list on BioBag’s website. We found ours at Good Start Packaging, PRODUCE BAGS. These bags only take 10-45 days in the compost pile to degrade compared to the lettuce bags 7 months.

After talking to both companies and all this research, we were pretty happy to find suppliers in this space that meet the needs and are excited to bring these bags to the market next year! We will be offering a return bin at our market for customers to return and we will add them to our compost pile to grow more veggies!

Thanks for reading,

By [email protected], November 13, 2019
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