According to research published on TheWorldCounts, plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes before they are discarded. In fact, we only reuse or recycle less than 3% of the plastic bags, even though we know well enough that they can take more than 500 years to degrade.
A recent surge of sustainable bags made from compostable materials has sparked quite the debate. The so-called bio-bags are usually made from corn starch, sugarcane or cassava, or in some cases, recycled materials. However, not all of them are truly compostable or biodegradable. Some of these bags can only break down at high temperatures of 55 °C to 70 °C and in specific facilities which are rare and in short supply. David Hughes, co-founder of Happy Dolphin has even gone far enough to say that “carrier bags made of oxo-biodegradable plastic are harmful despite their claim of being environmentally friendly.”
To tackle these debates and issues over what can be biodegradable or compostable, a new alternative has hit the market. This new compostable bag –known as the Happy Dolphin bag– is the result of a £4m EU commission granted to invent an innovative solution to a plastic substitute in order to help solve the environmental issues of the water crisis.
The Happy Dolphin bags are made from a newly- patented material called Biodolomer created by Ake Rosen, a Swedish materials engineer who has been an important part of Tetra Pak’s packaging developments. Rosen has always been interested in egg shells –which he calls “nature’s perfect packaging”– and has experimented with the concept for years through his company, Gaia BioMaterials.
The Biodolomer material takes direct inspiration from eggs. “The egg shell is very important for our packages. We always have it sharply in focus when we develop new packaging,” Rosen said.
While egg shells are made of 95% calcium carbonate mineral and 5% protein, Biodolomer is 50% calcium carbonate and 50% plant-based, with vegetable oils and sugarcane as its main components for this half. Although calcium carbonate may sound like a bad thing, Rosen argues the contrary: “All the earth is covered with calcium carbonate and it takes care of the acid by neutralising it. If we didn’t have it the earth would die of acid.”
GAIA’s Biodolomer is a mineral-filled biodegradable material which can also be used in existing production equipment and technologies, like film blowing, injection molding, sheet extrusion, and bottle blowing. As opposed to polylactic acid products, Biodolomer is essentially a mixture of a biodegradable aliphatic-aromatic copolyester, calcium carbonate and plant-based oils.
The material also fulfills the requirements of existing standards for compostable and biodegradable polymers, and holds OK COMPOST HOME and OK COMPOST INDUSTRIAL certificates issued by TUV AUSTRIA.
It’s also incredibly strong, which is why it’s the perfect material for the Happy Dolphins carrier bags. It can be used over 50 times for a period of up to two years before it becomes too weak to use, unlike some plastic bags which tear and stretch easily. It is also affordable at 25p (0,33 USD) to 30p (0,40 USD), making it a sound competition to existing supermarket “bags-for-life” which can cost up to 50p (0,67 USD).
Because Biodolomer is made from the same materials as eggs, it has a significantly lower carbon footprint than plastic, paper and other “biodegradable” bags. Unlike these “alt bags”, the Happy Dolphin line doesn’t require high temperatures to break down. Instead, it can decompose in average ambient temperatures in six to nine months when buried in soil or when (and if) discarded in a body of water, and in less than 24 hours when discarded in a commercial composter. Bonus points: after it decomposes its microparticles (which, of course, don’t include micro-plastics) are entirely safe for animal and plant consumption, even if it hasn’t broken down entirely.
A study made by EU comissions found that: “the Happy Dolphin bag had less than half the carbon footprint of both normal plastic bags and other biobags – even lower than paper bags – over the course of its life, from manufacture of the pellets that make up the bag to its disposal.”
Investments and grants for research focused on biomaterials like Biodolomer for uses like the Happy Dolphin bag can inspire big change in the plastic and packaging industries and markets without comprom the consumer’s behaviours.