You might think that “Degradable” or “Biodegradable” plastic bags are a more environmentally friendly option, because they degrade and breakdown over time, right?

The word “degrade” is likely to make you think that the bag will break down and therefore that they are better for the environment…

But the reality is, degradable and biodegradable bags may be just as harmful for the environment as regular singlet bags.

Let’s find out why.


Degradable Bags

“Degradable” bags are different to biodegradable bags in that they are designed to simply break down into smaller pieces over time. The plastic itself does not decompose any quicker, it just becomes more dispersed throughout the environment.

Unfortunately, these degraded bits of plastic are still harmful, especially in terms of being ingested by marine life. There is also the potential for bio-magnification, where the chemicals and plastics get transferred and “magnified” up the food chain and can even end up in seafood eaten by humans.

A study out of the University of New South Wales has found that degradable material has the “same level of environmental impact” as that of regular plastic bags.

Biodegradable Bags

Unlike degradable plastics, biodegradable plastics will decompose under the right conditions, typically in an environment which is similar to landfill or in some sort of composting facility. The key phrase here is under the right conditions.

Biodegradable bags can still end up in the ocean, and in these conditions (and especially if they have been ingested by marine life), there is no evidence that they break down any quicker than regular plastic bags.

Additionally, research out of the UK and the European Plastic Recyclers Association suggests that the additives used in biodegradable bags may also be harmful for the environment.


As you can see, degradable and biodegradable plastic bags may have just as much of an environmental impact as regular plastic bags. It’s important as retailers that we are aware of these facts, and are looking to move towards more sustainable shopping bag options in the future. It’s about changing our habits and making it as easy as possible for customers to change their habits too.

The Plastic Bag Ban

Degradable, biodegradable and regular plastic single use shopping bags are now banned in Queensland (under 35 microns) and Western Australia (35 microns and under), with similar laws in place or coming soon in other states. Retailers and food outlets may find the new laws a challenge, but they will be well worth it for future sustainability.

At QIS Packaging, we have a number of alternatives available, including paper bags, calico bags, heavier duty reusable plastic bags and more.

We also have another article which goes into more detail about the ban itself, including exactly which bags are banned.

If you have any questions at all about the ban, or about transitioning to more sustainable shopping bags, please do not hesitate to call us on 1800 555 343.