Many people buy biodegradable plastic bags to reduce the impact of pet waste on the environment. But when you’re staring at a wall of green plastic bags, it can be difficult to know exactly what to choose.
To find out the differences between green bags, we talked to Jennifer Blaese, founder of Loft 312. When Jennifer launched her own company, she wanted to create a biodegradable bag for the dog owner on the go. As a resident of Chicago, the thought of thousands of plastic bags sitting in landfills helped her realize there was an opportunity to develop a bag that breaks down in a landfill environment. The resulting bags, Greenline Poop Bags, required hundreds of hours to develop and two years to launch.
JB: Biodegradable is a general term used to talk about many green pet waste bags. To determine if a bag is really going to break down, you need to consider how the bag or product is disposed of. When you look for a bag, it’s important to read the packaging closely. You want to make sure the bag’s packaging uses the actual word biodegradable. The Federal Trade Commission has created a Green Guide for all consumer products to prevent companies from making false environmental claims, so companies must meet those standards.
When Loft 312 developed our bags, we wanted people to be able to throw them away in the trash. So we knew the bag needed to break down in its place of disposal to be labeled biodegradable. Having a bag break down in a landfill is tough because it’s a dark, dry environment. Landfills are required to compact and cover the waste with soil daily, so the bags are buried within days. So there were a lot of unique challenges we had to overcome.
Right now, there are a few types of green bags on the market. They are either oxo-degradable bags, compostable bags or landfill biodegradable bags.
Oxo-degradable bags contain plastic and an additive, but they only biodegrade when exposed to heat, sunlight and oxygen. In a traditional landfill, bags won’t be exposed to sunlight and oxygen. Even under perfect conditions–where they’re exposed to heat, sunlight and oxygen–oxo-degradable plastics do not completely disintegrate. Instead, they break down into tiny fragments, which can potentially have adverse effects on the environment.
Compostable bags are different as they are made of various plant-based starches. These bags will be labeled compostable but require commercial composting to break down. The controlled environment of commercial composting is able to provide the high temperatures, aeration, water and nitrogen that a landfill cannot.
A lot of cities do not have composting programs. Even if you live in a city that offers composting, many cities specifically state pet waste is not allowed. So people who use compostable bags often throw them into the trash. And since the landfill is a dry, dark environment, the compostable bags do not biodegrade.
Landfill biodegradable pet waste bags are new to the market. They contain plastic and an organic additive, which renders it biodegradable in a landfill environment. The additive attracts bacteria and microbes already present in a landfill. They colonize on the plastic and completely break it down resulting in natural organic matter. Greenline Poop Bags are landfill biodegradable because we think its the best option for people who don’t have access to composting but want to lessen the environmental impact of bag use.
MB: What other things do people think about when choosing a pet waste bag?
JB: Is this bag strong? Will my hand break through it? Does it smell?
There’s a certain amount of touch and feel involved when choosing a bag. People want to know how thick it is and some people want an opaque bag so they can’t see the poop inside.
The size of the bag is important. You want a bag big enough to cover your hand and tie it closed. If you have a large dog, multiple dogs or scoop litter, you want a bag that is large enough to scoop heavy loads.
And some people have a preference on how the bag smells. The majority of customers prefer an unscented bag, which is why we don’t make a scented bag. Plus, if I can avoid more additives in the bags, I will.
MB: Developing your biodegradable bag took a long time. Could explain a little bit about the process?
JB: Creating biodegradable bags took my company over a year. I started doing research on plastics and connected with people in the plastics industry. There seemed to be conflicting opinions on why type of plastic or additive I should use. I was introduced to a lab that specializes in testing biodegradable and compostable products and they referred me to a small company in Portland, Oregon that developed the technology I needed to make my biodegradable bags.
After several months of development, we had a finished product but before we went to market, we wanted to authenticate our biodegradable claims. The lab did a 6-month accelerated test (ASTM D5511) and a natural long-term test, which was completed in 28 months once the bags had fully biodegraded. Both tests measure the rate in which the plastic biodegrades in an anaerobic landfill environment.
It was a journey learning about biodegradable plastics in general. When I was a regular consumer, I thought I was buying bags that would degrade in landfills. I was upset when I found out that the bags I was buying did not biodegrade. There is a lot of greenwashing and marketing that can make it difficult to choose the right bag. But once you know what to look for, you can find a truly biodegradable bag.***
Jennifer Blaese is the founder of Loft 312, makers of GreenLine Biodegradable Poop Bags. She does the product development, marketing and sales for the company. She loves to talk about the environment and has a passion for pets and their wellbeing. When she is not at the office, she is spending time with her two Australian Shepherds exploring the city.