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Richard Todt, a concerned consumer, has reported this experience :
A friend and I have worked in the plastic packaging industry for many years, and we know a thing or two about plastic. We noticed that Albany Bakery bread bags claim that they are Biodegradable. As they are Polyethylene bags we thought this to be untrue so we put them to the test.
We buried ten Albany Bakery bread bags in compost heaps (the ultimate biodegradable environment) from approximately December 2009 until October 2010, a period of about 10 months. Needless to say, compost heaps are the ultimate in biodegradable environments.
Everything the bags went in with, and were intimately surrounded by, (kitchen waste, scraps, garden weeds, hedge and vine trimmings, confidential financial papers etc) had composted down to very good quality compost whilst the plastic bags remained completely uncomposted. The conditions were as close to ideal as possible. The compost heap was aerated (as opposed to anaerobic) and was moist and occasionally watered, with a season of high temperatures and a winter of low temperatures and using urea additive (urine) to accelerate the process.
If all the contents of the compost heap had gone in at one time it would have made a column of materials about 2 metres high which by October 2010 had reduced to about 300mm in height.
There is no legal definition of “biodegradable,” but the American Society for Testing and Materials defines the term as “a degradation caused by biological activity, especially by enzymatic action, leading to a significant change in the chemical structure of the material.” The European Union deems a material biodegradable if it will break down into mostly water, carbon dioxide and organic matter within six months.
Albany's Owner, Tiger Brands, reponds here :
From: Allim Milazi [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: 01 April 2011 09:34 AM
Subject: media comment for Wits Business Journal
Again, thanks for the opportunity to respond
We have provided below a standard release that was done when we adopted the Oxo-biodegradable packaging concept, demonstrating Albany’s plastic bread packaging is acceptable. We also met the challenge from various parties questioning whether Albany’s advertising claim that its packaging is bio-degradable. In this respect, we appeared before the Advertising Authority where we provided relevant evidence and supporting documentation from a number of respected international polymer experts and the ASA ruled in our favour.
Kindly let us know if you wish to discuss further or require additional information
Tiger Brands Group Communication
011 840 4984
082 889 5874
Biodegradable Bread bags – Albany Bakeries
Albany bakeries in keeping with our commitment to reducing our impact on our beautiful natural environment on the sub-Saharan African continent took a decision to adopt oxo-biodegradable packaging in May 2008 after significant testing and analysis.
The packaging used by Albany has been formulated to have a useful life-cycle as packaging of 12 months thereafter it will commence breaking up into harmless bio-mass within a period of a further 4 – 6 months depending on its exposure to the environment.
Although there is a limited consumer consciousness in South Africa of the environmental challenges which face us there is a global focus on the environment and the detrimental role that plastic packaging plays in it.
Bread bags are not widely re-used and when disposed of can have a negative environmental impact on the flora and fauna in our environment.
Albany Bakeries is a division of Tiger Brands and a leader in the South African bread market.
The company took the responsibility to reduce the environmental impact of bread bags that were disposed of.
An agent called D2W is included in the manufacturing process to aid in the degradation of the bag. The plastic is oxo bio-degradable. The oxo degradation process is accelerated in the presence of sunlight. Once the process is initiated it will continue in the absence of light as long as air is present. The plastic fragments and is consumed by bacteria once the molecular weight is reduced.
This process will continue until the material has biodegraded to CO2, water and humus.
Albany is the first national bread manufacturer to introduce biodegradable bread bag.
The oft repeated 4 R’s of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle and Recover are now joined by Remove, which is exactly what is achieved by D2W.
Albany joins other direct action entities around the world using d2w and taking positive steps to eliminate the environmental damage caused by lightweight plastic waste, including WALMART (world’s biggest retailer), TESCO (the UK’s biggest grocer) and WWF (world’s most respected wildlife champion).
(CONCERNED CONSUMER'S RESPONSE)
I've read all the correspondence below [from Albany]. It led me to http://www.biodeg.org/faq/#2
which explains all about how oxobiodegradables work in sunlight by being photodegradeable and are not designed to degrade in the dark such as in a compost heap like hydro degradable plastics do.
I suppose its more relevant for breadbags to degrade in the sunlight than under the soil because above ground is where most of the visible plastic litter ends up and is such an eyesore. It also potentially ameliorates the problem of plastic floating down rivers and ending up in the sea where it can harm sea life over many years.
In conclusion, I accept what Albany Bakery have said because on reflection, the most visible problem is the plastic flying in the wind, as a breadbag would do, being thin microns and very light and large. If we accept that humans, especially in Third World countries like ours are not likely to change their littering habits, then photodegradeable is probably better than starch-type hydrodegradeable. And at least Albany are taking a step in the right direction by doing something!
This has been a good exercise if only to increase awareness and to help Albany realise that the general public are watching them and noting the steps they are taking to be more environmentally friendly.
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