SLOVAK scientists have developed a break-through technology to produce ecologically-friendly plastic bags that biodegrade when thrown into compost. The plastic is produced from organic materials like whey and corn, the Hospodárske Noviny daily wrote.

“They do not harm the environment,” said Pavel Alexy from the Faculty of Chemical and Food Technology of the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava (STU) and the head of the project, as cited by the daily. “They are from plants, from which we get starch.”

Plastic bags produced from whey, sugar cane or corn are as durable as bags made from synthetic plastic and have other characteristics, too.

“Our contribution is that we removed one of the fundamentally negative characteristics of natural materials – fragility,” said Alexy. “We have created a unique combination of polymers and additional agents, generating a firm material.”

In contrast to current plastic bags that are purported to be biodegradable, the STU’s plastic bags do not take decades to biodegrade. After being placed into compost, they degrade into biomass, water and CO2.

The seven-member team worked on the technology for three years. Now that the patent has been approved, the product is ready to be offered on the market. So far, packaging foil producers and producers for 3D printers, including Chemosvit, have shown interest in the bags. The patent has already gained some attention abroad, as it has arrived at a time when the European Union is fighting to reduce plastics.

“Every year, more than eight billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe, causing enormous environmental damage,” Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said last November. The plan is to reduce the production of plastic bags until 2020, after which they should be eliminated completely.
Nevertheless, the new bags have some disadvantages: they are more expensive to produce than regular plastic bags, and they can only biodegrade in humid conditions.