Are Biodegradable Bags Better Than Plastic?

  • By: greenorb
  • Date: August 10, 2021
  • Time to read: 5 min.

It seems as though new products advertising their eco-friendliness and biodegradability are hitting the shelves every day anymore. 

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to differentiate between genuinely green products and products that are simply hard-selling to those who care about the environment but are uninformed. 

If you’re asking questions such as, “Are biodegradable bags better than plastic?” before you go shopping, you’ve come to the right place for answers.

Both biodegradable bags and plastic bags have negative long-term ramifications for the planet we live on. 

The best thing you can do when it’s time to shop for your plastic storage options is to consider reusable containers made of glass or stainless steel rather than plastic of any kind. 

Plastic bags take significantly longer to break down than biodegradable bags; however, biodegradable bags will release methane gases.

To learn more about the differences between plastic bags and their alternatives, keep reading! 

Everything you need to know to make an informed decision about your use of plastic and plastic alternatives is right here in this handy guide. 

You might be surprised by what you learn about this popular storage solution that we use for everything from food to toy packaging.

What Are Biodegradable Bags?

Bags that are labeled biodegradable are not made out of petroleum plastics, like traditional plastic bags. 

Instead, biodegradable bags are made out of organic, plant-based materials such as corn and wheat starch. Biodegradable, degradable, and compostable bags are all slightly different materials, which cause them to break down at different rates under different conditions.

Biodegradable and degradable bags aren’t much better for the environment than petroleum-based plastic bags. 

They simply give the consumer a sense of “doing the right thing.”. Compostable bags actually break down aerobically if composted properly, without releasing a ton of carbon or methane gases.

How Long Do Biodegradable Bags Take To Break Down?

Biodegradable bags are not all necessarily made up of the same material. Some are corn starch, some are wheat starch, and others are bamboo. 

In addition, some of these bags are capable of breaking down in a landfill environment within a few months, while others may take up to a few years.

One element of biodegradability that many consumers fail to note is the terms’ lack of specificity. 

Being biodegradable simply means that an item can break down by naturally occurring fungi or bacteria over time. It doesn’t guarantee any specific timeframe or conditions for break down.

So when an item boasts that it is biodegradable, that could mean it will break down next year or next century. 

How Long Do Plastic Bags Take To Break Down?

Traditional petroleum-based plastic bags will take hundreds of years to break down. 

Additionally, these bags are made from non-renewable sources, which release many toxins when they are processed in any way. 

Plastic bags are undeniably horrible for the environment; however, we need to be more selective with our replacement products and replacement behaviors.

Taking a reusable bag with you is always going to be the most environmentally friendly way to shop. 

Likewise, using recyclable aluminum foil is always going to be the best eco-friendly alternative to storage baggies. 

These convenience items are handy for keeping plastic bags out of our landfills and oceans.

Why Are Biodegradable Bags Bad?

Biodegradable bags do break down significantly more quickly than traditional petroleum-based bags. 

So, are biodegradable bags better than plastic made from petroleum? As you are learning, the answer is fairly complex.

Plastics take hundreds of years to break down. Biodegradable bags take just 1-2% as long to break down.


While this sounds like a magical cure-all for the environment, this is far from being the truth. 

Faster degrading plastics do not necessarily break down 100%. Instead, they often leave behind smaller particulate pieces of plastics known as microplastics.

Microplastics are considered a danger to not only the environment but also to practically all creatures living in the environment. 

These particles of partially degraded plastic are eaten or breathed in by small species, typically ocean dwellers. 

Other larger animals then eat these creatures and eventually find their way into the diets of humans as well.

Methane Emissions

Even when everything about the biodegradation process goes smoothly, biodegradable bags still pose a huge threat to the environment. 

This is because our municipal solid waste management sites worldwide are struggling to catch up with the equipment required to properly collect and manage gas emissions released as items biodegrade in our landfills.

One of the main points of our efforts to recycle and increase our biodegradable products is to dramatically decrease our greenhouse gas emissions. 

People refer to the gases released as a result of our wasteful lifestyles as our carbon footprint. 

While everyone knows that carbon is harmful to the environment, placing biodegradable products in landfills that aren’t appropriately outfitted to collect the gases creates more harmful gases. 

According to National Geographic, improperly handled biodegradable materials release a large amount of methane gas, which has 28 times the heating capacity of carbon dioxide. 

When you look at the statistical data, biodegradables cease to look like such an easy choice for the environment. 

Which Product Is Worse For The Environment?

So, all things considered, which product is best/worst for the environment? That is a choice that each consumer must make for themselves, including you. 

However, now that you have the facts, you’ll be more prepared to make a healthy choice for both the planet and your family the next time you are considering purchasing plastic bags or plastic bag alternatives. 

If you really want to do your part to cut back on both carbon dioxide and methane emissions, consider skipping plastic and plastic alternatives altogether. 

Instead, go for durable carry bags made out of a cotton canvas or recyclable paper wrappers for travel foods such as sandwiches instead of the traditional plastic carrying or storage options.

Always use a healthy dose of common sense when making choices that affect your environment and health. 

Please don’t rely solely on advertisers or manufacturers to tell you the whole truth about their products or packaging.

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