The leading producer of plastic grocery bags has unveiled a biodegradable product amid continued nationwide debate over banning plastics from the check-out counter.
Officials at Hartsville, S.C.-based Hilex Poly Co. LLC said the new Hilex Environmentally Degradable, or HED, bag is designed to break down into water, carbon dioxide and microbial waste in about eight weeks, when exposed to oxygen. Heat, sunlight and stress may accelerate the process.
``Compared to traditional plastic garbage bags which don't degrade at all, you can see the HED plastic bag is a truly unique, viable solution for addressing littered bags,'' Hilex President and Chief Executive Officer David Pastrich said in a Jan. 24 news release.
According to the release, HED bags are made with high density polyethylene and a proprietary additive to increase degradability. When stored in sealed cartons, HED bags have an estimated shelf life of two years.
Pastrich said HED bags cost between 15 and 20 percent more than traditional plastic grocery bags, but the benefits are worth it. ``None of us like to see plastic bags littering roadsides or floating in waterways,'' he said.
In a Jan. 29 telephone interview, Pastrich said the company is negotiating agreements with several retailers to switch to HED bags, but that none of the contracts are final.
He said plastic bag makers have had to go green as their products come under fire by lawmakers in the United States seeking total or partial bans on plastic shopping bags.
Plastic producers were encouraged by a Jan. 22 decision by Los Angeles County officials that set voluntary reduction goals rather than an outright ban of plastic carryout bags.
Pastrich said recent bans enacted in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., and proposed legislation in San Jose, Calif., have made paper bags the choice of consumers and retailers.
``We've been completely outgunned by the paper [bag] industry,'' Pastrich said. ``This is a chance for us to show that we have a product that is the right answer to environmental concerns.''
Oakland has delayed enforcement of its plastic bag ban, pending a judge's ruling on a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court by Hilex and other plastics producers. The ruling is expected in mid-February.
The trend toward plastic bag bans includes two separate bills in New Jersey and a proposed 20 cent fee on plastic bags at stores in Maine.
Pastrich said HED bags - like paper and food - won't degrade if placed into landfills where no oxygen is present. In aerobic landfills - where oxygen is present - HED bags will break down in about 400 days. But that won't satisfy some communities that have adopted the American Society for Testing and Materials 90-day composting biodegrading standard.
In defense of its decision to develop and market a biodegradable plastic bag that disintegrates slower than bags made with Kraft paper and corn starch, Hilex cites a 2003 Australian study that showed existing compostable bags produced significantly higher greenhouse gases during their life cycles.
Lee Doty of Edmonton, Alberta, former president of the Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Institute, said in a Jan. 29 e-mail he doubts Hilex would put its name on a product that did not live up to performance claims.
``One small point: The release notes that the bags on a rack in a sunny store will degrade quickly, and while exposure to oxygen resulting from being taken from their packaging will accelerate the degradation process, it is unlikely to proceed as quickly as it would in the outdoors since window glass is an effective ultraviolet filter and it is UV light and/or heat that is required to initiate the reaction,'' he said.
Hilex is pitching HED bags as part of a two-pronged strategy to address environmental concerns of lawmakers and consumers, Pastrich said. The other step involves signing retailers up for the company's Bag-2-Bag recycling program, in which used bags collected at stores are made into new bags at Hilex's plant in North Vernon, Ind.
In 2007, Hilex recycled 8 million pounds of bags and plastic film at the facility. The company plans to reach 12 million pounds in 2008.