Are PE Bags More Environmentally Friendly?
Polyethylene (PE), often known as polythene, is a common plastic used to create plastic packaging. PE is used to manufacture bags with varying weight capacities. PE bags are mainly transparent or translucent plastic for packaging and shipping. They are a popular packaging material mainly due to their slim body shape, smooth texture, reflective surface, and flexibility.
For most common applications, the average thickness of a PE bag ranges from 1-6 mm, while they can be made thinner or thicker. Speciality plastic formulations are also available for unique packaging applications that require a material other than polyethylene.
Types of PE
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is a flexible plastic commonly used in producing food wraps and grocery bags. LDPE bags are ideal for single-use items like grocery bags. Harder variants can form a variety of flat and slotted bags, including FDA-compliant, food-safe varieties.
High-density Polyethylene (HDPE) is a common material used to hold liquids such as detergent jugs, juice and shampoo bottles, and, in some areas, milk. It is also the same material used to produce some grocery bags. Due to its durability, HDPE is also used in the construction of strong plastic pipes or even buckets, and it is one of the most recycled plastics.
Why are PE bags so popular?
PE bags are created and used on a wide scale since they are made from virgin PE or recycled PE plastic. Hence, they are relatively inexpensive, abundant in supply, easy to process to the required shape, and suitable for firms, factories, and more.
All kinds of PE bags are flexible, non-wearing, easy to heat, acid and alkali resistant, attract less dirt and other organic elements, and can sustain certain temperatures. Therefore, they are so widely used today.
PE bags are used in the food industry because they protect items from dirt and mould from the external environment, prevent moisture, and maintain product quality for an extended period.
Due to their flexibility, durability, tear resistance, and toughness, PE bags are widely used in food transportation, preservation, agriculture, and electronics industries.
PE bags can be printed with logos and trademarks used to promote the product.
PE bag applications
FDA-approved, food-safe PE bags keep food fresh by eliminating moisture or contamination.
Small PE bags are ideal for storing rigid objects of various sizes or forms. These bags are very useful when transporting things that require assembling.
Plain, thin bags are a cost-effective option for vendors selling any form of bulk products. Applications range from single-use bags for bulk grocery customers to sturdier bags that hold kilograms of items.
PE bags can also protect, hold, and display non-food goods such as apparel, office supplies, household products, and more.
Custom-printed PE bags enable brands to stand out by including vibrant graphics, logos, nutritional information, and other specifications.
Are PE bags sustainable?
Bags made of polyethylene have been found to be less harmful to the environment than bags made of biodegradable polymers currently on the market. Based on a study conducted by the Technical University of Denmark’s Environment Department for the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, a plastic bag made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) has the least environmental impact. The calculation is based on a life cycle assessment.
Plastic bags have a significant advantage over other forms of shopping bags in that they have the lowest environmental impact. Thin plastic shopping bags are often constructed of high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Although these bags are made using petroleum, they produce less carbon emissions, waste, and toxic byproducts than cotton or paper bags. Plastic bags are also relatively durable and reusable.
On the contrary, other consequences of using PE bags were not highlighted in the study and are significantly more difficult to tackle, such as microplastic leakage and marine life ingestion of plastic materials, which LCA cannot examine. Since reusable and paper bags have a high starting environmental cost, and PE bags have a more significant negative impact after use, it is difficult to identify which form of bag is the most sustainable. Whether the bag is made of plastic, paper, or another material, the most sustainable option is to use the bag users already have. Every study and every type of bag found that reusing the bag as many times as possible reduces its environmental impact. Overall, making an attempt to reuse any bag and properly dispose of the bag is critical.
How to recycle PE bags
As a result, proper plastic disposal is critical. However, the standards for proper plastic disposal can appear confusing, especially when recycling regulations vary by country and even city. However, because sustainability has become a hot topic, there is pressure to conquer the recycling challenge.
PE bags and various plastic wraps are recyclable but not in the curbside bin. Most of these products must be recycled through a store drop-off, while some areas allow curbside recycling.
Most communities cannot recycle plastics and dispose of them in landfills. As a result, store drop-offs contribute significantly by collecting and recycling unwanted plastics. Most large grocery stores and businesses feature a bin for used plastic bags. However, ensure they are dry, clean, and empty before dropping them off.
PE bag alternatives
In some instances, paper, glass, and metal can all be used as alternatives to plastics. These materials can all be recycled to some extent, but they also have other limitations. Glass bottles, for example, have excellent barrier qualities and can be recycled easily, but they are also heavy, requiring more fuel for transportation.
Single-use plastics are difficult to eliminate in some areas, especially in hygienic food and medical packaging. Hence, biodegradable and compostable plastics are being looked into as possible solutions to reduce the environmental impact of required single-use plastics. They can provide the convenience of single-use plastics while minimising harm to marine life and emissions from incineration.
Moving toward a more sustainable future does not imply completely abandoning plastic. Repurposing and reusing PE bags on hand is better than purchasing brand-new “eco-friendly” products.