More US cities turn to biodegradable plastic bags - study

28 December 2009 19:30  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Numerous US cities and governments are turning to biodegradable plastic bags as replacements for traditional plastic bags due to increasing environmental concerns, a study by research firm Frost & Sullivan said on Monday.

Even Houston - widely considered the US petrochemical hub - is set to require its residents to put leaves and grass clippings in biodegradable bags made from starch on 1 January.

The new bags begin to decompose within six weeks, and Houston city officials predict the change will result in the annual elimination of 60,000 tons (52,425 tonnes) of organic material from local landfills with an annual savings of $2m (€1.38m) in fees, according to the Houston Chronicle.

But cities need to find cheaper feedstock in order for such changes to be cost competitive, according to the study.

In Houston, for example, a box of 10 new biodegradable bags, each holding up to 39 gallons, will cost $6 to $8, while a box of 70 similar-size plastic bags costs about $16, according to local reports.

The Frost & Sullivan study suggested countering such cost issues with the use of biomass-based feedstock as well as an integrated process, adding that the adoption of such feedstock would be influenced by the development of improved biocatalysts.

In addition, concerns exist over the processability of biodegradable plastics, as well as their low resistance to heat and, in some cases, low shelf life, according to the study.

"The properties of traditional biodegradable polymers do not offer the essential mechanical properties and fail to match up to the needs of end user application compared with conventional plastics," said research analyst WF Kee. "This acts as a barrier for the penetration of biodegradable packaging in high-end applications."

Frost & Sullivan said the properties of biodegradable plastics could be improved through the use of enhanced blending technologies or developing composites, adding that studies were underway in both areas.

But despite the costs, consumer interest in bio-based packaging continues to rise, according to the study. That global trend is expected to hold going forward, and should partially offset cost issues over the near-term, researchers said.

($1 = €0.69)

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By: Ben DuBose
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