Nonwoven bags: biodegradable or recyclable?

A lot of false information circulates on the internet about nonwoven bags also called polypropylene bags or nonwoven shopping bags.

July 20th, 2012

- It is often said that nonwoven bags are biodegradable. This is WRONG in most cases.
There are different types of nonwoven and each types of nonwoven can be made from different types of fibers. The type of fiber determines whether a nonwoven is biodegradable or not.
In most cases (well over 90% as of 2012) “nonwoven shopping bags” are made from spunbond polypropylene. Spunbond is the type of nonwoven and polypropylene is the type of fiber. Polypropylene is NOT biodegradable.
Spunbond can be produced with biodegradable fibers, but to date it is a tiny market because biodegradable fibers are over twice as expensive as polypropylene.
- It is said that the nonwoven bags are recyclable. This is TRUE, but the old disposable plastic bags are also recyclable: they are made with a polyethylene film; and polyethylene IS recyclable. The problem is the cost of recycling. But the cost of recycling is almost the same for the disposable bags and the nonwoven bags.
- It is almost always said that the nonwoven bags are environmental friendly. Well it is a very discussable point.
Spunbond polypropylene shopping bags do not do more harm to the environment than disposable plastic bags. But that they are more environmental friendly is very hard to prove.
Nonwoven shopping bags made from biodegradable fibers are a much better answer and are much more environmental friendly. By the way, disposable plastic bags can also be made with biodegradable plastic…
Another solution is recycling. Both nonwoven bags (those made of polypropylene) and disposable plastic bags (made of polyethylene) can be recycled.
Biodegradability can be a good solution depending on how the plastic biodegrades. Most biodegradable plastics biodegrade only partially and creates an invisible pollution.
Recycling requires energy.
None of these 2 solutions is perfect, but it is better than using nonwoven bags and not recycling them…