Biodegradable Shopping Bags Aren't So Biodegradable After All

iStock.com/timsa
iStock.com/timsa

Shopping in a sustainable manner can be a confusing task, even for those who consider themselves educated, eco-friendly consumers. We’re told to use canvas tote bags at the grocery store, but those come with an environmental catch. Even materials that seem like they’d be easy to recycle—like yogurt containers and plastic bottle caps—can be a minefield of “do's” and “don’ts.”

Further complicating matters, a new study has revealed that “biodegradable” plastic bags didn’t actually degrade after three years in the natural environment, according to The Guardian. Researchers from the University of Plymouth in the UK tested four types of plastic bags marked as biodegradable and one conventional plastic bag as a control. Some of the biodegradable bag samples were buried in soil, some were left in open air, and others were submerged in seawater to represent conditions after the bags are thrown away by consumers. After nine months, the four biodegradable bags left in open air had disintegrated into plastic fragments; in seawater, only the bag type labeled compostable disintegrated completely. At the end of the study, all but the compostable bag were still able to hold 5 pounds of groceries after being submerged in soil or seawater. The findings were published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Imogen Napper, the study's lead author, said she was shocked by the findings. “After three years, I was really amazed that any of the bags could still hold a load of shopping. For a biodegradable bag to be able to do that was the most surprising,” Napper said in a statement. “When you see something labeled in that way, I think you automatically assume it will degrade more quickly than conventional bags. But, after three years at least, our research shows that might not be the case.”

If you’re looking for a better alternative, compostable bags might be the way to go. Still, researchers concluded that none of the bags, including compostable ones, had deteriorated sufficiently enough to offset the negative effects of littering.

Co-author Richard Thompson, who serves as head of the university’s International Marine Litter Research Unit, called for more consistent guidelines regarding what can be labeled as biodegradable. “Our study emphasizes the need for standards relating to degradable materials, clearly outlining the appropriate disposal pathway and rates of degradation that can be expected,” Thompson said.

[h/t The Guardian]

Make Shopping Easier With This Super-Light Reusable Bag

Nanobag 3.0
Nanobag 3.0

With the current state of our environment being what it is, it's vital to try to reuse, reduce, and recycle as much as possible. Every year, people consume billions of plastic bags, leading to tons of unnecessary waste. Many consumers have made the switch to reusable bags, but they're often not the sturdiest nor most attractive method of portage.

The Nanobag 3.0, which is now raising money on Kickstarter, claims to be a comfortable, easy-to-fold, high-quality bag that can reduce the number of single-use plastic bags needed per year. This super-soft sack can easily fit into the smallest of places, like the watch pocket in your jeans.

Putting a bag into the watch pocket of jeans
Nanobag 3.0

Weighing just 0.7 ounces, the Nanobag 3.0 is made of water- and dirt-repellant rip-stop fabric. You can carry about 66 pounds of goods in its 18-liter capacity, and the bag's reinforced handles work to distribute the weight evenly on your shoulder or arm. Attached to the bag is a small pouch that can carry keys or a small wallet, so you can have all your essentials in one place.

For each bag sold, one tree will be planted with the Eden Reforestation Projects, a non-profit organization that restores forests and reduces poverty in developing nations.

With over a month left in its campaign, the Nanobag 3.0 has already exceeded its goal of $3,831, raising over $73,000 as of June 17. By pledging $10 or more, you can get your own ultra-light and ultra-strong reusable bag on Kickstarter. Shipping is scheduled for December.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

633 Divers Set World Record for Largest Underwater Cleanup

iStock/kanarys
iStock/kanarys

According to NOAA, billions of pounds of waste are dumped in the world's oceans every year. On June 15, a record-breaking number of divers cleaned up thousands of pounds of it from the waters off Deerfield Beach in Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.

The 633 divers who participated in the ocean cleanup project earned the Guinness World Record for largest underwater cleanup ever. Outfitted in wetsuits and scuba gear, they cleared up to 3200 pounds of debris from the popular shoreline. Deerfield Beach is home to a fishing pier, so much of the waste they collected was related to that activity; lead fishing weights alone contributed 1600 pounds to their haul. Other noteworthy scraps found on the seafloor included a boat ladder, a barbell, and a sign warning boats to keep their distance from the pier.

The cleanup was part of the Dixie Divers' annual pier cleanup. For this year's event, a representative of Guinness World Record was present to take an official tally of the participants. The group broke the previous record for largest underwater cleanup set by a team of 614 divers in the Red Sea four years ago.

The waters off Deerfield Beach are home to reef that supports vibrant marine life. Now that divers have beautified that patch of ocean, the city of Deerfield Beach plans to dispose of the waste properly and recycle as much of it as possible.

[h/t Sun Sentinel]

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