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By the end of 2023, the Canadian federal plastics regulation will be set to ban Calgary Co-op’s compostable grocery bag, along with single-use plastic bags. This decision was made despite the fact that the bag had passed tests in various composting facilities.The federal government classified Co-op’s bags as unconventional plastic, meaning that Co-op will be forbidden to offer them as paper or reusable bag alternatives.
Co-op, one of Calgary’s most well-known retail chains, sources the compostable alternative to single-use plastic from Leaf Environmental Products. Leaf founder Jerry Gao expressed his frustrations regarding the ban in an interview.
Gao emphasized his goal of doing away with single-use plastic bags by providing a convenient alternative.
Alternative for plastic
The Leaf Environmental Products company designed the compostable bag to be reusable as a compost bin liner, despite its initial appearance as ordinary plastic. Its texture and appearance are held together because of starch-based polymers, which are a natural but strikingly similar alternative to single-use plastic.
“So this is just a polymer that has a similar chemical structure [to a plastic bag], but it’s made up of completely different material.”
Jerry Gao, Leaf Environmental Products founder
For the most part, many facilities agreed with Gao’s assessment. Leaf’s bags received compostable certification from the Biodegradable Products Institute. Calgary’s composting facilities also approved of the bags in composting.
The Leaf Environmental Products company also thoroughly tested their bags to prove they had no polyethylene, a material commonly found in single-use plastic bags. Despite containing no plastic, it will still be classified as an unconventional plastic by federal regulation.
Further testing needed
While Gao insists on the safety of his products, government officials enforcing the ban disagree.
Environment and Climate Change Department spokesman Samuel Lafontaine said in an email that Leaf’s plastic alternative still posed a plausible danger to wildlife.
Furthermore, testing has shown that biodegradable plastics may not fare any better than ordinary plastics in the environment.
“Compostable plastics are currently screened out by most organics recycling facilities and sent to landfill, due to longer biodegradation times than food and yard waste,” Lafontaine said in his email.
The Canadian government’s assessment of pollution in 2020 could not find proof that biodegradable plastics would compost properly in their natural environment. Further testing would be required to determine its long-term effects.
Despite the government officials’ skepticism, Gao remains adamant that his bags are fully compostable. He attributes a lack of public understanding between compostable and biodegradable products.
Many manufacturers boast of biodegradable products that have been proven not to compost in natural environments. Gao emphasized the difference between his product and so-called biodegradables.
He points to the fact that his bags have faltering durability, even in Calgary’s ideal preservation environment, as proof of their compostability.
“So if you leave it in nature when there’s humidity when there’s a UV exposure when there are physical forces acting upon it, it goes away quite quickly,” Gao said.
Gao has expressed his frustrations to Calgary’s local council. Although he has yet to meet with Leaf’s founder, MP George Chahal announced that he would discuss these concerns with the council.
However, Chahal made it clear that he is still looking into Gao’s claims about the bag’s compostability. He warned that the bags would need to meet criteria enforced by the government before renegotiating the laws and regulations.
Leaf Environmental products still provide compostable bags in numerous countries across the globe. Gao affirmed his commitment to his vision and stressed compostable bags’ future in a plastic-free world.