Ziploc bags are convenient for storing snacks and other things as they can be sealed, preventing leaks and spills.
However, given how unsustainable single-use plastic is in terms of waste production, where does that leave Ziploc bags?
To cut to the chase: as a single-use, non-renewable plastic product, Ziploc bags are not the most eco-friendly choice.
Keep reading to learn about how sustainable Ziploc bags are and what your options are for living greener.
1. What Are Ziploc Bags Made Of?
Ziploc bags are made of plastic. In particular, they are usually made from polyethylene, and sometimes polypropylene.
2. Are Ziploc Bags Made Sustainably?
Plastic Ziploc bags are not sustainable.
Plastic is made from petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource.
Creating plastic also causes pollution. Globally, around 4.5% of all emissions are from plastic production.
3. Are Ziploc Bags Bad for the Environment?
One of the major concerns about Ziploc bags is that they are usually single-use products. Many people do not reuse plastic bags.
While some plastics are recyclable, they can only be recycled so many times.
Eventually, all plastic products end up in landfills or are incinerated.
Plastic bags build up in landfills, where they can leach harmful substances into the environment. They can also wind up in the ocean.
In the ocean, animals like sea turtles can mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, leading to interstitial blockages and even starvation.
They also break into microplastics, which are consumed by smaller fish that could end up being eaten by humans.
Consuming microplastics from fish and contaminated water supplies could potentially disrupt gut health and cause inflammation in humans.
Microplastic is also harmful to other types of aquatic life like coral. Coral protects the coastline from erosion, provides a habitat for marine life and is even a source of food and medicine.
4. Are Ziploc Bags Toxic?
Research suggests polyethylene is considered safe when used in food packaging and in cosmetics. Polypropylene is also regarded as safe for food packaging.
However, in the environment, these plastics can still break into microplastics and cause pollution.
When plastic finally breaks down, it does not degrade into organic matter. Plastic can leach chemicals into the surrounding environment and break into microplastics.
This causes pollution and can harm wild life. When animals eat plastics, it can cause blockages in their digestive system, and fills up their stomach – meaning they eat less food and can eventually fall ill or die.
5. Are Ziploc Bags Biodegradable?
Neither polypropylene nor polyethylene are considered biodegradable.
However, studies noted that bacteria partially degraded polyethylene with a lower molecular weight.
It also found that UV rays from the sun can somewhat degrade polypropylene.
Keep in mind that it takes decades, if not longer, for plastic to break down.
Plastic bags can take around 20 years to degrade.
6. Are Ziploc Bags Compostable?
Standard Ziploc bags made from polyethylene and polypropylene are not compostable.
As people become more concerned about sustainability, brands have tried to create compostable Ziploc bags.
Not all bioplastic products are home compostable. For example, BioBag’s Ziploc bags, made from a compostable resin, need to be sent for industrial composting.
An industrial composting facility uses heat to process materials like bioplastics, meat, dairy, and other items not suited for home composting.
The heating process allows microbes to break down the materials. However, not everyone will have access to a facility like this.
Products intended for industrial composting will not break down in a regular compost bin, nor are they recyclable.
So, they end up in general waste – and will be sent to landfills or be incinerated.
Other Ziploc bags like Compostic claim to be suited for a home compost bin.
So, you need to read the instructions on the packaging carefully before purchasing compostable Ziploc bags to ensure you get one you can dispose of correctly.
Bioplastics are a step in the right direction, but they’re not a perfect solution.
They are often made from plants, but these crops still require fertilizers which can cause pollution.
7. Are Ziploc Bags Recyclable?
The leading Ziploc bag brand claims their bags are recyclable. Polyethylene and polypropylene are recyclable.
Recycling saves on energy and resources compared to creating new products, but it still requires energy.
In the US, most energy comes from coal and natural gas, so it is not sustainable for the energy grid to mostly rely on non-renewable sources of electricity.
Using non-renewable energy sources contributes to air and water pollution, and waste.
Keep in mind that plastic cannot be recycled indefinitely; eventually, it will be too poor quality to reuse and will end up in landfills or incinerated.
Just because something is recyclable does not mean it actually ends up getting recycled either. This is often due to contamination in home recycling bins.
Contamination is when non-recyclable items are in the recycle bin. This also includes items you might think are recyclable, like cardboard pizza boxes, but are no longer recyclable due to food residue.
Too much contamination can mean everything in your recycle bin ends up being sent to landfills or is incinerated instead.
For example, in 2018, only 8.7% of the plastic produced in the US was recycled.
8. Are Ziploc Bags Reusable?
If Ziploc bags are completely clean with no crumbs or food residue inside, you can reuse them.
They tend to be quite flimsy and fragile so they will not last for a very long time.
9. Are Ziploc Bags Sustainable?
Ziploc bags are not sustainable.
They are usually single-use products. This leads to an accumulation of waste in landfills.
The plastic used to make Ziploc bags is non-renewable and also contributes to pollution.
How to Dispose of Ziploc Bags
Turn the bag inside out to empty out any crumps and pieces of food. Wipe it down to get rid of any residue.
Then put the bag into your home recycle bin when it is completely dry.
As mentioned earlier, not everything in a recycle bin is actually recycled, so be careful not to contaminate your bin; otherwise, the whole thing could end up in landfills.
3 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Ziploc Bags
1. Bamboo Lunchbox
Bamboo is a renewable resource. These lunch boxes are durable and can be reused for a long time.
Bamboo is compostable, but these products are quite thick and sturdy, so they may need to be sent for industrial composting – depending on the instructions on the original packaging.
However, they can be upcycled as a plant pot.
2. Wax Paper
Wax paper is not a single-use item; it can be reused for years if taken care of properly.
Wax paper is made from a strip of paper or cotton fabric coated in beeswax or a plant-based alternative.
They are often made from upcycled fabric.
3. Reusable Plastic Pouch
While this is still a plastic item, it is intended for longtime use. This will reduce reliance on single-use plastic bags.
These are usually thicker and more sturdy than Ziploc bags, so they will last much longer.
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