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In June, Canada joined a growing list of countries frustrated with the inability of market forces to shrink our plastics dependency and announced a plan to ban single-use plastics as early as 2021.
Heading up the list of targets are plastic bags, one trillion or so of which are still sent out into the world annually despite the longtime promise that a sustainable alternative to the grocery bag was always just around the corner.
Grocery - Bag - Answer - University - Alberta
So what exactly killed the biodegradable grocery bag? The short answer, according to University of Alberta retail expert Kyle Murray, is human nature.
"The behaviors that are hardest to change are the ones related to habit and convenience," said Murray. "You can tell people that plastics are bad for the ocean or bad for the environment—stop using them, and they will agree they're bad, then say, 'But they are just so much easier, I just can't stop.'"
End - Murray - Decision - Retailers - People
On the retail end, Murray said the decision is much simpler: retailers sell people what they want.
"Basically, if people aren't buying a product anymore because they don't like the container, retailers would switch the container."
Alternatives - Retailers - Demise - Plastic - Bag
While there are fairly inexpensive alternatives available to retailers, the demise of the biodegradable plastic bag is self-inflicted, according to bioresources researcher John Wolodko, who teaches sustainability at the U of A.
"I think the biodegradable grocery bag killed itself."
Wolodko - Objectives - Alternatives - Chance - Price
Wolodko said there are three objectives plastics alternatives must meet to have a chance at being economically viable: price, performance and recyclability.
The list of problems with biopolymer plastic—which can be made from almost anything that lives—is headed by weak performance. He explained the highly touted cornstarch plastic bags that are now more than a decade old are infamous for busting open in the middle of grocery-store parking lots, and don't store particularly well.
"If you're storing all the bags you're going to...
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