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Down to Earth Switches to Biodegradable Plastic Bags On Earth Day April 22nd
Compostable Bags Not an Option New Bags Convert to Water, Carbon Dioxide, Harmless Humus; With or Without Oxygen By Frank Santana, 4/10/2009 12:41:47 PM HONOLULU, HAWAII – Down to Earth ALL VEGETARIAN Organic and Natural will halt the use of conventional plastic checkout shopping bags and switch to biodegradable plastic bags on Earth Day April 22nd. The switch to biodegradable bags will be made at no cost to customers. “We made this decision after a careful, year-long review of alternatives,” says Mark Fergusson, Down to Earth CEO. “Our goal was to strike a balance with keeping costs down and the need to improve practices that contribute to a cleaner and safer environment.” The company says the new biodegradable bags break down completely into water, carbon dioxide, and harmless humus on land and in the ocean. This biodegradation process can take place with or without the presence of light or oxygen. These factors allow for biodegradation when buried in the ground or disposed in compost bins or landfills, which normally prevent degradation because they become air tight. The new environmentally friendly bags completely biodegrade in 9 months to 5 years, and can be recycled along with regular plastic bags. Biodegradation is Complete The biodegradable bags from Down to Earth are made using conventional plastic that includes an additive from ECM Biofilms, Inc, which allows plastic to completely biodegrade. The ECM technology is based on a process that causes plastic films to biodegrade when they are exposed to microorganisms in the environment. The process continues until the plastic becomes part of the organic components of the soil, just like biodegraded sticks or other pieces of wood become part of the soil. “Consumers need not worry about oil from the plastic getting into the ground, as the common belief that plastic bags are made from oil is not true,” adds Fergusson. Plastic bags are made out of polyethylene, which comes from ethane extracted from natural gas. “So, there’s no oil to begin with, and no oil going into the environment from plastic bags.” Confirmed by Independent Labs Tests by independent laboratories concluded that the films treated with the ECM additive are biodegradable under short and long-term conditions where the film is exposed to oxygen, and over a longer period of time without oxygen depending on the amount of exposure to other biodegrading materials. In addition, the tests concluded that the films did not produce any toxic residue harmful to living organisms in land or water. “The beauty of all this is that we now have an environmentally sound solution to the plastic-bag dilemma using the most cost-effective biodegradable plastic technology available today,” says Fergusson. “The new bags cost only a couple cents more or less per bag, depending on the size of the bag, so it’s a win/win solution for business and consumers alike.” Before deciding on the ECM technology the company considered compostable bags made from corn starch. However, they discovered that the trend towards ethanol and plant-based plastics is taking up farmland and putting pressure on the food supply. “According to a report issued by the World Bank last year,” says Fergusson, “this trend was causing food shortages around the world and contributing to up to 75% of the increase in food costs, so we didn’t want to be a part of that.” Fergusson says compostable bags would have cost 12 to 15 cents per bag, which is four to five times more than what the company pays for conventional plastic bags. They would have needed to pass some of that cost on to customers, which they didn’t want to do. And finally, compostable bags contaminate the recycle stream for conventional plastic. This means local communities would need a costly infrastructure to collect and recycle only compostable bags. “So the whole argument for compostable bags didn’t make sense,” added Fergusson. Paper Bags Worse for the Environment As for paper bags, he explained that many people instinctively assume they are better for the environment because their core ingredient is derived from wood, which is a natural and renewable product. But it takes more than four times the energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does a plastic one. And, it takes more energy to ship them in because paper bags are considerably heavier than plastic. In addition, millions of gallons of toxic chemicals used to make paper each year pour into waterways, settling into sediments and working their way into the food chain. Or, they shoot up smoke stacks and contribute to air pollution such as acid rain. The wood industry, he says, is also responsible for clear-cutting old growth forests and adding to the problems of deforestation. “Therefore, the truly sustainable environmentally sound solution to the plastic bag dilemma is to embrace the best biodegradable technology available while encouraging people to re-use their bags. In so doing we will contribute to a cleaner and safer environment,” In addition to biodegradable bags, Down to Earth offers a variety of reusable bags they have been selling for decades. The company credits five cents per bag to customers who reuse their bags. Down to Earth ALL VEGETARIAN Organic and Natural is Hawaii’s only all-vegetarian food store chain and one of only a few in the nation. The company was founded in 1977 in Wailuku, Maui. Today, Down to Earth is the largest locally operated natural food store in Hawaii with four locations: Honolulu, Kailua and Pearlridge on Oahu, and Kahului on Maui. For more information, visit http://www.downtoearth.org
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