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Should Essentials use degradable plastic bags?

Name of proposer:

Jordan Webb

What the idea is about:

Essentials and shops of Leeds University Union should offer its customers the option to purchase degradable plastic bags as well as the current paper bags in use

Why have you proposed it?: 

The use of paper bags was brought into the union as a suggestion to reduce plastic going to landfill. Since this motion was passed, plastic carrier bags that are degradable have been brought to market, most noticeably in Cooperative Food stores. These bags are able to degrade in approximately 3 years, without leaving anything that could harm the environment.

Using these bags in the Union would also be cheaper for the Student. At a current cost to the consumer, the paper bag is 20p whereas the degradable bag could be bought for as little as 3p


The Panel then voted on this Idea 8 Yes 6 No. This Idea was sent to Referendum by the Student Panel



Please login to comment.

Samuel Brightbart
10:26pm on 29 Nov 11 In response to Jordan's comments below: - Even if the DEFRA report may have flaws, I would automatically give more credit to a report given by an internationally recognised environmental agency, as opposed to a report given by a company which itself produces the bags in question. - You say there is oxygen in the upper layers of landfill. I'm sure this is true to some extent, but there is no way of guaranteeing that the bags will remain in these upper layers for the entire length of time required for them to biodegrade. Moreover, as soon as they are covered by another material, they will not have enough light available for the degradation process to occur. The conditions present within landfill as a whole are just not adequate for proper breakdown of the material to be guaranteed. This is the crucial point. In fact, a quote from reads: "virtually nothing... decomposes in today's landfills, because they are actually designed to be as stable... as possible. Research from William Rathje, who runs the Garbage Project, has shown that when excavated from a landfill, newspapers from the 1960s can be intact and readable". - You say the bags are sold as biodegradable. In practice, the bags are not biodegradable within the context of the UK's waste disposal scheme (see above). It's all well and good them meeting oxo-biodegradable standards, but if they can't be guaranteed proper access to oxygen at all times after being disposed of then this is irrelevant. - I accept your points on programming the bags, but I maintain that the negative environmental effects of the bags are still considerable. - All materials can "degrade' into smaller pieces over time - there's nothing special about that. In any case, without the proper conditions (which aren't there, as explained above), even small pieces will not biodegrade properly. - Having spoken to a broad selection of students outside the Union today and yesterday, many said that they bring their own bags when shopping and that they have no problem with this. The existence of expensive paper bags in Essentials is to discourage people from using disposable bags at all. Re-using your own bags is free and after some adjustment to your personal habits, it takes very little effort to remember to bring your own bags when shopping. A disposable alternative is there as a last resort, but it is not meant to be used regularly. The bottom line is that your proposal is to introduce a product that will create more waste and encourage an attitude of throw-away culture and disposability. Paper bags are certainly not ideal, but introducing plastic bags as another option alongside them (which is what your proposal entails) does nothing to address environmental issues.
Jordan Webb
5:50pm on 28 Nov 11 Just to clear up a few of the points you've raise: - The DEFRA report has many flaws. The majority of its evidence and discussion is speculation and is not supported by any strong evidence. -The bags have NEVER been sold as compostable (which is the basis of the DEFRA report). The bags are sold as degradable and biodegradable. Biodegradability and compostability are NOT the same thing. -They meet international standards regarding biodegradability as well as a British Standard for oxo-biodegradable plastics BS8472. -The bags degrade to fragments that are no longer classified as a plastic. It is these fragments that are then acted upon by microorganisms to biodegrade the fragments. -The bags CAN take up to 5 years to degrade but this is entirely based upon the requirements of the purchaser. This is 'programmed' at the time of manufacture. So, the bags can actually start to degrade within 12 months of manufacture. -There is oxygen in the upper layers of a landfill site, sufficient for these bags to biodegrade. -The Union does not have a surplus of paper bags. The reason the Union has a large amount is because the supplier they're purchased from has a very large minimum order. In a week, Essentials alone, can sell almost 1000 paper bags. Far from 'no demand'
Emma Friend
3:14pm on 28 Nov 11 Bringing plastic bags into the union is definitely a major step back, particularly as we create pretty much no waste bag-wise at the moment. The UK grocery industry alone throws away enough carrier bags every year to cover the entire planet twice! Why would we want to unnecessarily contribute to that? They can't be recycled so would inevitably end up in landfill where they don't biodegrade properly. We're students, we have rucksacks!
Anna Louise Dominian
12:05am on 28 Nov 11 This proposal is misleading, as previous comments have mentioned the bags will not biodegrade in landfill where they are likely to end up. Furthermore the suggestion that they do not leave any trace that will harm the environment is incorrect, even if the bag is in the correct conditions to biodegrade the carbon trapped in the plastic is released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. Finally the Cooperative has now stopped using these "biodegradable" plastic bags in light of evidence released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Compostable bags would be a step up but would still be unnessesary.
Hannah Crichton-Smith
10:49pm on 27 Nov 11 We don't need these bags. From the surplus of paper bags stacked away in the union, it's clear that there is no demand for any form of bag. Why make waste, when there is none. These bags do not bio-degrade anyway as they need light and oxygen which isn't present in landfill (where they end up). It's not too difficult to bring a bag with you from home...and it's free!
Samuel Brightbart
9:24pm on 27 Nov 11 Bringing these bags in would be a step back for the Union. At the moment people generally bring in their own bags, which costs absolutely nothing. There is a surplus of unused paper bags owned by the Union, which shows that people have adapted to shopping without plastic bags with no problem, since they are not using many of the paper bags currently available. There is no real demand for plastic bags, so why bring them in? Anyway, the bottom line is that the bags are not truly biodegradable, because when they go to landfill, they don't have enough access to oxygen and light to biodegrade. So bringing them in would simply create more waste - waste that we don't need to create.
Adam Harper
11:32am on 31 Oct 11 It might sound good in principle but there are a number of problems with biodegradable bags. Firstly there aren't the facilities in the UK to recycle bio-degradable plastics at the moment and most waste collectors won't take these plastics for compostin g either. oxo-biodegradable bags which are the most common are still made from petrolium so aren't very environmentally sound. These bio-degrade because of an additive, but can take up to 5 years to degrade. Without the recycling or composting facilities most biodegradeble bags will end up in landfill, where they will produce methane a powerful greebhouse gas. The Coopo and Tesco used to use biodegradable bags, but have both now stopped using them because government research showed they "does not improve their environmental impact and potentially gives rise to certain negative effects". see However we look at it plastic bags designed for a single or only a few uses still represnt a waste of a resource which has a good chance of ending up in landfill or littering Leeds streets
Zahra John
8:27pm on 30 Oct 11 I don't see that it could do any harm, it's just another option for the consumer.
Samuel Stockley
11:36am on 30 Oct 11 I agree with really is very easy to keep a bag or two stuffed in next to library books.... I think the bigger issue really is that the amount of plastic used to package products which are currently sold far outweighs the amount that would be used in carrier bags.
Jessica Rucell
10:22am on 29 Oct 11 no, people should be encouraged to bring their own sacks to ween our minds even further off of non-degradable products. Paper is enough, and keeping a sack in our rucksac's is easy.
Natalie Theodoropoulou
11:26pm on 28 Oct 11 Yes, I don't see a reason why not...
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