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]

UK Burger King Restaurants Will Stop Giving Plastic Toys With Kids' Meals

Leon Neal/Getty Images
Leon Neal/Getty Images

Fast food companies don't have a reputation for being eco-friendly, but through small changes made in recent years, some of the biggest names in the industry are working to reduce their environmental impact. Just a few weeks after introducing the meat-free Impossible Whopper, Burger King announced a new policy for its United Kingdom locations. As CNN reports, UK restaurants will no long include plastic toys with kids' meals.

The change comes after two sisters from the UK started a petition on Change.org calling on McDonald's and Burger King to stop distributing plastic toys with kids' meals. Ella and and Caitlin McEwan, who were 9 and 7 respectively when the petition launched this summer, wrote, “children only play with the plastic toys they give us for a few minutes before they get thrown away and harm animals and pollute the sea." They went on to say: "It’s not enough to make recyclable plastic toys—big, rich companies shouldn’t be making toys out of plastic at all." Their online petition has received more than 530,000 signatures.

By cutting plastic from kids' meals, Burger King estimates it will avoid wasting 350 tons of single-use plastic a year. The chain has also installed containers in its UK stores for collecting old plastic toys from customers, so the material can be recycled to make playgrounds. The UK represents just a fraction of Burger King's market, but according to the company, non-biodegradable plastic toys will be phased out of all locations by 2025.

McDonald's has had a different response to the McEwan sister's petition. Instead of doing away with plastic toys completely, UK restaurants will give customers the option to swap toys for fruit with their Happy Meals later this year, and then allow them to opt for books instead for a period in early 2020. Meanwhile, in Canada and Germany, some McDonald's restaurants are experimenting with going totally plastic-free. The more sustainable restaurants feature paper straws, waffle cone condiment cups, and burger wrappers made from grass.

[h/t CNN]

Fall Foliage Is Running Late This Year

Free art director/iStock via Getty Images
Free art director/iStock via Getty Images

The August arrival of the pumpkin spice latte might have you feeling like fall is in full swing already, but plants aren’t quite so impressionable. According to Travel + Leisure, the best fall foliage could be coming a little later than usual this year.

Historically, the vibrant transformation starts to sweep through northern regions of the Rocky Mountains, Minnesota, and New England in mid-September, and reaches its peak by the end of the month. Other areas, including the Appalachians and Midwest states, don’t see the brightest autumn leaves until early or mid-October. The Weather Channel reports that this year, however, the forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts unseasonably warm temperatures for the next two weeks, which could impede the color-changing process.

Warm temperatures aren’t necessarily bad for fall foliage, as long as they occur during the day and are offset by cool nights. Since meteorologists don’t expect the overnight temperatures to drop off yet, plants will likely continue producing enough chlorophyll to keep their leaves green in the coming days.

The good news is that this year’s fall foliage should only be about a week late, and meteorologist David Epstein thinks that when leaves do start to change color, we’re in for an especially beautiful treat. If the current weather forecast holds, he told Boston.com, we'll "see a longer season than last year, we’d see a more vibrant season than last year, and it would come on a little earlier than last year, which was so late.”

Though poor weather conditions like early snow, heavy rain, drought, or strong winds can cause leaves to fall prematurely, most trees right now are in a good position to deliver a brilliant display of color after a healthy, rain-filled summer.

Find out when you’ll experience peak fall foliage in your area with this interactive map.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER