If you think about the fact that there are around 1 trillion plastic bags used throughout the world every year, a terrible vision of the world we are leaving behind for future generations begins to emerge.
In an effort to fight the build-up of plastic bags, biodegradable plastic bags are being produced and sold. One type uses certain chemicals to trigger the disintegration of petrol-based plastics in six to 12 months. But there are a few problems with this method, and they have to do with something called “pro-oxo.” Particles of plastic and the same chemicals that are used to trigger disintegration can be absorbed into the ground and are harmful to the environment. And as Professor Hussein Yıldırım sees it, there are more risks with pro-oxo than possible damage to the soil: When used as a bag for carrying or storing things, the oxidative ingredients in the plastic can actually get absorbed by whatever is being carried around or stored. Depending on light, heat or moisture levels, the disintegration times of these plastic bags can be reduced to just one week. In other words, if there are food items in the bag, they can be infused with heavy metals, which in short is why there are many countries in the world where pro-oxo is simply forbidden. The possible risks are too great.
Biopolymer: A true friend of the environment
Another method being used in the creation of environmentally friendly bags is plastic produced from corn or potato starch. These plastics are called “biopolymer,” and they wind up rotting away. These plastic bags are true friends of the environment. But despite the fact that they don’t cost much more than other plastic bags to produce, these bio-bags are not used much in Turkey. And since they are not used much, consumers are being misled on this front, as are municipalities, governors’ offices and large supermarket chains.
In fact, what most people in Turkey believe to be bio-bags are in fact bags made with pro-oxo. There is definitely much confusion in Turkey as to what constitutes a biopolymer bag as opposed to a bag made using the pro-oxo method.
The head of the Turkey Plastics Industrialists Foundation (PAGEV), Mehmet Uysa, stresses this as well, saying, “In Turkey, the term ‘bioplastic’ is relatively new, and it is not really understood either by producers or by consumers.” Uysal notes that the problem is basically related to lack of information, and asserts that the plastic bags being sold as bio-bags are in fact not up to international standards.
Interestingly, large supermarket chains that may use bio-bags made with biopolymers in other nations will use plastic bags in Turkey that are made using the pro-oxo method. The bags are printed with promises that they “disintegrate in 12 months” and are “environmentally friendly.” İsmail Aydın, himself a producer of plastics made from corn and potato starch in Hong Kong, notes that for whatever reason, large supermarket chains in Turkey do not seem to look warmly on bio-bags.