Manufacturing and Sustainability

New Walker business to sell biodegradable trash bags

Back to Earth plastic bags are said to decompose within five years.

May 31, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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New Walker business to sell biodegradable trash bags
Jim Hines and Scott Jousma began producing Back to Earth plastic bags two years ago and global demand has grown significantly. Courtesy Great Lakes Biodegradable Products

The massive number of plastic bags ending up in landfills is a major problem for landfill operators in many parts of the world, so the executives of Great Lakes Bottled Water in Walker have organized a new business to distribute plastic trash bags described as being truly biodegradable “under landfill conditions.”

“We are one of several U.S. distributors” of GBD Enterprises’ Back to Earth brand biodegradable trash bags — “the only one in the Midwest,” said Scott Jousma of Great Lakes Bottled Water, also known as Great Lakes Bottling Co. The new company, organized three months ago, is called Great Lakes Biodegradable Products.

Curt Larsen, chief operating officer at Great Lakes Bottling and a principal of Great Lakes Biodegradable Products, said the new company is in talks with several major grocery retailers in Michigan regarding Back to Earth bags. He also attended a major retailers meeting in New Orleans in early May.

Cost is one of the challenges facing the new distributor. The cost consumers would pay for Back to Earth trash bags will be from 5 to 15 percent higher, according to Larsen.

“First, we have to educate the retailer,” he said. That entails presentations by Jim Hines, chairman of GBD Enterprises, which has an office in Rochester Hills but is a Florida corporation.

One of the companies manufacturing the Back to Earth bags is Petoskey Plastics, and there is another plant in Florida. GBD Enterprises also is incorporated in Puerto Rico, where it was founded in 2007. At first, the company was just selling its additive to plastic product manufacturers but then began production of the trash bags two years ago as demand for them grows around the world.

Right now, Hong Kong is considering an expansion of its campaign to discourage use of plastic shopping bags to prevent so many of them from taking valuable space in its landfills. Four years ago, the government there banned retailers’ practice of providing free plastic bags to customers. Now the retailers must charge a small fee on each bag a shopper uses and turn that money over to the city of Hong Kong. According to a report in Plastics News in early May, the free bags ban has reduced the disposable bag use by about 75 percent.

The California legislature also is debating a statewide ban on single-use plastic shopping bags.

Meijer provides both paper and plastic bags for its customers but is obviously well aware of the plastic bag controversy. Meijer has recycling bins in every lobby where its returning customers can dispose of their accumulated Meijer bags.

Of course, ever since bottled water became a consumer craze, millions of plastic water bottles also started ending up in landfills every year, and there has been a great deal of public debate about stopping that from happening.

Hines said about 94 percent of all one-use disposable plastic products are not recycled, even though they are recyclable and recycling is heavily promoted.

When asked if Great Lakes Bottled Water had plans to begin using GBD Enterprises plastic for its water and drink containers, Larsen would only say it was “possible.”

Again, cost will be a challenge. Larsen said the biodegradable plastic water containers cost about 20 percent more than those on the market now.

Hines said that most plastic products on the market — beverage containers, forks, knives and spoons, and trash bags — that claim to be biodegradable are really not.

“Our product is 100 percent certified biodegradable,” said Hines.

Hines said PLA and oxo-plastics are “degradable,” but not truly biodegradable. PLA is typically made from corn starch, and oxo from petroleum. Over time, both types of plastics will break down into tiny fragments, but Hines said those fragments “don’t go away.”

An algae-based additive in the plastic used to make Back to Earth products will break down once covered in a landfill, where microbes have a chance to get at them, according to Hines. A plastic water bottle made of his company’s proprietary plastic formula “will be gone inside of five years,” said Hines.

When asked if GBD Enterprises’ biodegradable plastics are subject to breaking down prematurely, Hines said, “There is zero evidence microbes will assault our products outside a dump or landfill.”

Hines said McDonald’s Corp. has been developing restaurants that are “fully sustainable,” with the first fully sustainable McDonald’s being in Puerto Rico. McDonald’s “chose our (trash) bags” for that store, said Hines.

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