Paper and plastic

Starting on Monday, according to Editor and Publisher Magazine, the bags that your Star Tribune arrive in will be biodegradable, becoming the first newspaper in the country to do so, it says.

The bags, which feature water-soluble inks and non-lead-based color concentrates, are expected to degrade in 2-3 years in a landfill. Bags “floating” as litter in the environment are expected to degrade within a few months. Because the bags are conventional plastics, they can also be recycled.

The typical bags can last 100 or so years, according to a news release from the company that makes the bags:

First, triggered by oxygen, heat, sunlight, or mechanical stress, a proprietary additive causes the plastic to oxidize. The oxidative degradation breaks the polyethylene molecules into smaller sizes. Second, when the molecules are small enough, microorganisms (fungi, bacteria, etc.) digest the molecules, leaving only water, carbon-dioxide, and biomass, which are natural elements of nature. Results of tests at Willow Ridge Plastics, in Erlanger, Kentucky, confirm that bags manufactured by GP Plastics, containing a proprietary additive, will meet the specification of an oxo-biodegradable plastic.

A few years ago, some of the plastic bag makers — Glad, Mobil etc. — marketed plastic bags that they said would degrade in landfills. But there was a problem. They were hydro-biodegradable, which meant when they degraded, they emitted methane, a greenhouse gas. Oxo-biodegradable plastics do not emit methane.

(h/t: City Pages)

  • Steve Mojo

    There is little or no data to support the “biodegradation” of plastics in landfills. In fact, not even paper or food scraps will biodegrade in today’s modern landfills. If you have not done so, read the work of William Rathje, who excavated landfills across North America. He found 40 year old newspapers that were still readable and 15 year old “fresh looking” hot dogs. You can find more about this in his book: Rubbish.

    My guess is that in forty years, someone will find todays copy of the Star Tribune (still readable) packed in a “biodegradable” bag.

    Both the paper and the bags should be recycled.

  • PJ

    Dr Rathje was a brilliant and interesting professor at UA who wrote a book 16 years ago, that probably has alot to do with why oxo-biodegradation was pursued and is being accepted in 30-40 countries around the world.

    There are volumes of scientific reseach data that validate this technology. Modern landfill sciences also include aerated and bioreactor landfills.

    I think the Star Tribune should be lauded for doing something environmentally positive. The one thing that we know for sure is that conentional plastic bags have no hope at all of ever degrading