UK – Tesco has stopped using oxo-degradable carrier bags after a study revealed they might actually be damaging to the environment instead of ‘eco-friendly’.
Tesco said its decision to drop the bags was based on scientific research and customer concerns that they were weak and likely to break.
Last year, a study published by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) raised concerns about claims that plastic bags produced using oxo-degradable additives would degrade to water, carbon dioxide and biomass in just 18 months.
Conducted by Loughborough University, the study concluded that oxo-degradable bags may do more harm than good. This is because in landfill, an oxo-degradable bag is not exposed to the sufficient levels of heat, light and oxygen needed for breakdown.
While such bags do eventually degrade into a fine dust, the degradation process may actually take as many as five years to do so, contrary to Tesco’s initial claims.
Concerns have also been raised about the possibility of the degraded particles being ingested by invertebrates, birds, animals or fish. While there is currently no evidence that the fragments cause harm, “neither was there evidence that they do not,” according to the study.
In addition, the study also highlighted the non-recyclable properties of oxo-degradable bags, due to the chemical additives used to make them break down.
A Tesco spokesperson said, “We took the decision to remove the biodegradable additive because we believed it contributed towards bags becoming weaker and to help better promote their re-use and recycling at end of life.
“This decision was underpinned by a detailed review of the science to help us understand the full life-cycle environmental impacts of our carrier bags.”
The spokesperson also said that the British retailer had actually started to issue new carrier bags to its stores without the biodegradable additive but with up to 15% recycled plastic, from as early as February 2011.
Besides Tesco, local supermarket chain competitor the Co-operative also decided to stop using oxo-degradable bags last year after the DEFRA report was released.