Thursday, March 26, 2009

Biodegradable Bags, Local Farms, and Greenwashing

For the past few weeks, I've been researching biodegradable bag options for local farms and farmers markets in Washington State. I was looking primarily at standard sized t-shirt bags, dimensions: 17.7” x 22.8”, 0.96mil(thickness), holds approx. 10 gallons. As I delved into this topic, more and more questions arose:
• What does “compostable” mean?
• How is that different (or similar) to “biodegradable”?
• Are the bags made from non-GMO corn?
• Are they made from petroleum, with an approved additive?
• Will they compost in landfills/home composts or do they need to be composted at approved facilities?
And so on, and so on. It’s a complex issue, without a single “right answer”. I am trying to find a biodegradable bag product that fits five criteria:

1. Affordable, compared to standard plastic t-shirt bags
2. Biodegradable, according to Cedargrove Composting and Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI, a national certifying and testing agency)
3. US Manufactured, there are no local manufactures, but we want to purchase a domestically produced product
4. Authenticity, the goal is to develop a long-term, values-based relationship with the manufacturer, not a sales-based relationship. We want to work with a company that values sustainability, rather than one that simply sells a “sustainable” product.
5. Made from non-GMO corn. We cannot promote sustainable agriculture if we undermine it by purchasing GMO-based products.

In the past, CHC has worked with a local company to purchase “biodegradable” bags. Recently, I found out that their bags are NOT biodegradable in the Cedargrove Composting system, nor are they on the BPI list of approved products. Essentially, they sold us plastic bags at a premium price. Not good. It seems many manufacturers simply label their products "biodegradable" or "sustainable" for marketing. Yes, I have encountered "greenwashing" before, but this was the first time that I didn't really have any background experience or knowledge.

One manufacturer has consistently met our criteria, but before CHC makes a purchase, we're waiting for responses from local farms and farmers markets about their interest and commitment to biodegradable bags. At least we're now more conversant with the terminology and a little less naive about "greenwashing".


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