Are Walmart plastic bags biodegradable?

In this short report we will discuss the topic “recycling plastic bags Walmart” and know why it is important to recycle plastic bags. We will also discuss the biodegradability issues and environmental effects with the use of plastics. Further we will discuss the initiatives taken by Walmart with the use of single use carry bags and other plastic packagings.

Are Walmart plastic bags biodegradable?

The conventional plastic bags or the single use plastics that you use while shopping in the supermarkets are mostly made of polyethylene. These types of plastics are not biodegradable and it may take upto 450 years for them to completely biodegrade . However, what we see in our daily life doesn’t include just the polyethylene bags but a different composition of monomer materials which degrades at different times. 

High Density polyethylene (HDPE) and low density polyethylene (LDPE) vary highly in their proportion of ethylene monomers. HDPE bags are tough and durable and find application in carrying heavy loads. On the contrary, low density polyethylene bags are thin plastic bags. With their highly packed structure HDPE takes more than 500 years to complete the biodegradation process whereas LDPE can biodegrade in 2 to 20 years.

The definition of biodegradation aims to bring about the process by which involves the breaking down of material by naturally occurring microbes to simple elements such as carbon dioxide and water within a short period of time (weeks or months).

Materials with long degradation time cannot be deemed as biodegradable. Hence, the conventional plastic bag is not biodegradable as it stays in our land for a long period of time causing severe effects to living beings.The table below  gives an idea on the biodegradation rate of plastic bags depending on the composition and arrangement of the monomers.

The high density polyethylene bags that are used for carrying heavy loads such as cements or for making tough corrosion resistant pipes takes longer time for biodegradation. It will be surprising to know that these HDPEs are used for making the water bottles as well. Imagine the tons of plastic waste that this material can generate based on its usage in our everyday life.

However, the regular plastics, even the one used by Walmart for packaging and as carry bags have higher biodegradation time. This is estimated to be about 20 to 30 years for some and 400 years for other types of plastics. Bioplastic is nowadays gaining more popularity because of the term “bio”. Though these are biodegradable, they need industrial composting before being biodegraded by naturally occurring microbes.  

Hence the best way to deal with any plastic waste is to recycle it which reduces the economic cost for production of plastic from scratch and also provides an eco-friendly approach in dealing with the plastic waste. 

Photo Courtesy: iStock. Plastic grocery bags.

How can we recycle Walmart plastic bags?

Walmart uses plastic material for packaging their materials for transportation and carry bags for the customers. They use different plastic components for different applications, most of which are recyclable. Of the different types of plastics used,  #1 and #2 plastics which are the polyethylene terephthalate and high density polyethylene and are used in high volumes accounting for 53% of the total plastic bags used by Walmart. 

The low density polyethylene comes second which contributes to 23% of the plastics used by Walmart. The rest is covered by PVC, polystyrene, polypropylene, and other plastics. Of these plastics used by Walmart, polyethylene terephthalate, high density polyethylene, low density polyethylene, and PVC are the highly used plastics that are completely recyclable and hence can contribute to an eco-friendly way of treating plastics. 

Most of the curbside recycling garbage bins accept plastic bags which are then sent to the recycling process. However, just collecting at the curbside garbage bin will not be efficient as most plastics are generated from supermarkets or other consumer shops during packaging and transport. Hence, these supermarkets have set up recycling processes at their centers where anyone can send in their waste plastic for recycling. 

Since there are chains of supermarkets that deal with plastic waste, you can find one near your location as well. Walmart also supported these initiatives where they have centers that can collect plastic materials for recycling. Also, as discussed earlier, majority of the plastics used by Walmart is #1 and #2 which are completely recyclable and repurposed to make new bags and support the environment in a better way.

Before processing any recyclable materials the first thing done is to remove any contaminants from it such as foods, tapes, staples, stickers etc by cleaning them thoroughly. This can also be done by any person who is planning to recycle the waste plastics and help bring the recycling process a step closer. Once collected, these plastic bags are chipped to form pellets which are then processed into new bags or manufactured into plastic lumbars.

What initiatives are taken by Walmart to reduce plastic pollution?

Walmart being the top consumer supply store accounts for … tons generation of single use plastic waste and its use is increasing exponentially. Most of these single use plastics are made fom…which are not only non-biodegradable but also emit toxic elements in landfill and oceans causing threatening situations to the wildfires. 

To bring down the pollution by the use of plastic wastes, Walmart has taken initiatives through several programs that can contribute to the plastic recycling. The North American stores have set a goal to use 100% recyclable plastic materials for their packaging and as carry bags where these are also labeled with recycling information for its proper disposal at the recycling centers. 

Their Beyond the Bag initiative is also notable as this will help to design bags made from sustainable sources by identifying, testing, and implementing such designs to reuse current retail bags. Walmart’s Environmental, Social, and Governance Report has highlighted some of the efforts taken by them towards an eco-friendly plastic waste management and reducing the current plastic waste problem.

Other alternatives for an eco-friendly bag?

When one really needs to make a change, there are several alternatives for plastic bags. A durable carry bag, though made of plastics, can be reused many times which goes well against any single-use plastics. Imagine a household using five carry bags for years rather than dumping hundreds of single use plastic carry bags for the same number of years.

One would also prefer to go with cloth bags, especially the genes bags that are pretty strong and resistant to wear and tear compared to the normal fabric bags. Paper bags have always been around when the urgency to go plastic free comes in one’s mind. However, their production deals with numerous cutting down of trees and until an alternate sustainable source is found, these too are hazardous to our environment.

Photo Courtesy: iStock. Cloth Bag

Conclusion

In this brief discussion we have reported the aspects related to the topic “recycling plastic bags Walmart” and have highlighted why recycling is important. We have also discussed biodegradability of plastic bags and what initiatives have Walmart taken to deal with plastic pollution from single use plastics. 

Frequently asked question (FAQs): Recycling Fresh Direct bags.

Is Walmart still recycling plastic bags?

Walmart has many recycling programs that take care of their single-use plastics and packaging materials by recycling them. There are many collection centers set up by Walmart that take in plastic materials that are recyclable to produce plastic bags or convert them to other products.

Where can I recycle plastic bags?

Recycling plastic is one of the main purposes of the national grocery retailers such as Kroger, Safeway, Target and Walmart. These offer collection service for recycling of plastic bags in their stores. You can also look for local recycling centers through online search engines using the zip code.  

Many recycling centers also provide curbside recycling or door to door collection. You have to check with the policies of these recycling centers on what type of plastics they recycle.

What to do with old plastic bags?

Old plastic bags can be recycled to make other bags or other plastic products. These can be thrashed in the recycling bin or disposed of at the recycle collection centers. With proper recycling of old plastics they will not end up in landfill and do not pollute the environment. There are other repurposing of plastic bags where these can be used to make crafts or decorative items. 

Is hard plastic packaging recyclable?

Hard plastics are used in tying up toys to the cardboard packaging or for protecting electronic equipment and are made of high density polyethylene or other plastics materials that are completely recyclable. These types of plastics can be included in the recycling process to generate other plastic products.

Why should single use plastics be banned?

Single use plastic produces more plastic waste than any other types of plastics. It is dumped in landfill, dumped in oceans and also dumped in open spaces where humans, water animals, and wildlife are affected. Banning single use plastic is the first and foremost step towards controlling plastic pollution and now we have reached a level where its implementation is an urgent necessity for the living beings.

What will replace single-use plastic?

There are many ways single use plastics can be replaced with naturally occurring materials. Single use plastic straws can be replaced with straws made from bamboo, single use plastic bags can be replaced with cloth bags or jute bags, and single use plastic cups and plates can be replaced with biodegradable materials such as cellulose and starch. 

Not to forget, the worst single use plastics are the water bottles that also can be replaced by your personal water bottles made from steel or copper.

References

https://corporate.walmart.com/esgreport/esg-issues/waste-plastics

Wang B, Zhao Y, Li Y. How Do Tougher Plastics Ban Policies Modify People’s Usage of Plastic Bags? A Case Study in China. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(20):10718. Published 2021 Oct 13. doi:10.3390/ijerph182010718

https://corporate.walmart.com/askwalmart/what-is-walmart-doing-about-plastic-waste

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