IT’S good that the big shopping malls here in Pampanga are shunning away from the use of plastic bags. They are encouraging the use of reusable bags but are using paper bags as replacement for plastic. Plastic bags are still available but at a cost of P5 per piece, apparently to discourage its use. The malls initially made the plastic bag ban as part of their environmental program, but the ordinances of LGUs and Clark made it mandatory.

Consumers are still adjusting to this change. They have yet to get used to carrying reusable bags with them whenever they go shopping or buy groceries. As for paper bags, I find it difficult to carry my stuff because the paper bags have no handle like their plastic counterpart. If it’s not really that costly, I suggest that paper bags be given handles too which will also make them reusable.

While the plastic bag ban is making headway not just in the Philippines but all over the world, research on alternatives to oil-based plastic continues. The aim is to produce biodegradable plastic made from renewable resources. And there’s a positive development on this area. Here are two recent studies as reported in enn.com and sciencedaily.com:

PLASTIC FROM MILK: this plastic alternative is both edible and environmentally-friendly and better at keeping food fresh than petroleum-based plastics. Researchers are using casein, a protein found in milk, to make a flexible and very strong film and another material called Citrus pectin which helps the material stay strong and flexible without dissolving.

These films break down quickly and they’re made from renewable components. The material is mostly protein, and it’s easy to add other nutrients. What’s good about it is that the plastic wrap can be eaten and has nutritional value. Also, casein-based film is about 500 times better at keeping oxygen out thus preventing food spoilage. This would mean huge savings all along the supply chain.

PLASTIC FROM PRAWN SHELLS: Bioengineers at the University of Nottingham are doing trials on how to use shrimp shells to make biodegradable shopping bags, as a 'green' alternative to oil-based plastic and as a new food packaging material to extend product shelf life.

Chitosan is a human-made polymer derived from the organic compound chitin, which is extracted from shrimp shells. The dried chitosan flakes can then be dissolved into solution and polymer film made by conventional processing techniques. Chitosan is a biodegradable polymer already used in pharmaceutical packaging due to its antimicrobial, antibacterial and biocompatible properties.

The research for this new material is being optimized for Egyptian conditions aimed at solving two problems at the same time. First it will solve the environmental and public health problems in Egypt caused by solid waste, including contamination of water supplies. Second, it will not use natural plant materials in creating bioplastic because land is used for food crops.

These researches for alternatives to oil-based plastics are laudable. However, I believe that reusable ‘green’ bags are still the best.