New York Times: From Grey to Green?

According to a story appearing on the New York Times website, the famed ‘grey lady’ will attempt to go ‘green’ with new ‘biodegradable’ bags for its home-delivered newspapers by early 2009  (see: Cheap Green: Reusing Plastic Bags – New York Times).

According to the report, the bag begins to degrade in the open environment within a few months and within two to three years when in a landfill.

The story also quotes: “With this new technology, an additive is mixed with the plastic that causes the finished product to degrade over time, as it is exposed to oxygen in the open environment or in a landfill. In addition to being “oxo-biodegradable” the bag can be recycled along with any other plastic bags. The Times will be the first national newspaper to commit to using this environmentally friendly bag. “

Greenwashing?  Absolutely!

There is no data to support the claim that “oxo-bidegradable” plastics completely biodegrade in the anaerobic conditions found in modern landfills.

Further, according to a recent position paper by Canada’s Environment and Plastics Industry Council, very little biodegrades in a landfill, which is good because modern landfills are designed to minimize groundwater pollution and methane production because of uncontrolled biodegradation.  Plastic diverted to a landfill only adds to solid waste problems.

In the 1990’s, famed ‘garbologist’ (garbage + archeology)  Dr. William Rathje excavated perfectly readable, 30-year old newspapers from landfills, demonstrating that little biodegradation is occurring.  My guess is that a New York Times from 2009 (wrapped in the new bag) will likely be perfectly readable if exhumed from a landfill in 2039!

Rather than looking for a “biodegradable” solution, perhaps the money The Times is spending would be better spent promoting newspaper AND plastic bag recycling as a way to keep waste out of the landfill.