How green are biodegradable bags?

By Jeanette Brizendine, City of Federal Way's solid waste and recycling project manager

Are you using biodegradable bags in an effort to be green? Depending on how you dispose of them, biodegradable bags might not be as green as you think.

It’s a common misperception that food and anything labeled “biodegradable” actually biodegrades when placed in a landfill. In reality, garbage in our landfills is covered with a layer of dirt, shielding it from air and water. Since the decomposition process relies on lots of air and water, many perfectly biodegradable items sit in our landfill, sometimes untouched for decades.

If biodegradable bags don’t break down in a landfill, what should you do with them? Please don’t recycle them! You read that correctly — do not recycle biodegradable bags along with the other bags you can recycle at the grocery store. Biodegradable bags are made from polylactic acid (PLA) derived from corn. Other grocery bags are made from a plastic resin called polyethylene. PLA contaminates the polyethylene and can ruin attempts to make products from recycled bags.

Well, now what do you do with that biodegradable bag? Compost it. Biodegradable plastic bags placed in your yard waste or compost bin are turned into compost in just 60 days. Biodegradable bags are a wonderful option for food scrap recycling. They help eliminate mess and odors, making food scrap recycling simpler.

So, skip the expense of biodegradable bags unless you are using them for their intended purpose — keeping food scraps recycling tidy.

Contact Jeanette Brizendine: (253) 835-2771 or, or visit

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