As consumers we’re faced with a variety of options when it comes to items labeled “healthy” and “eco-friendly.” And it’s up to us to read labels, do research, and make the best choices we can. To help retailers who sell online and want to make sustainable packaging decisions, we conducted an informal test of our biodegradable and compostable paper shipping bags compared to biodegradable plastic mailers. We ordered a case of plastic bags online, even though it felt like the ultimate betrayal, and got to work.

Here’s how the experiment broke down:

June 20, 2018 – Day 1:

I put one Eco-Shipper® and one Eco-Natural, along with a biodegradable poly mailer, into my garden compost pile (mostly just a pile of weeds). The garden is in a partly sunny location and gets watered regularly, making it a suitable location for biodegrading.  Remember that things, including paper, only biodegrade if they’re in conditions that support bio-degradation. That means if they are thrown in a plastic trash bag or put in a landfill without access to sunlight, water or air, the odds of them biodegrading in the next 500 years are next to nothing.

So we put the bags in the compost pile and let them be exposed to nature for a few weeks to see what would happen.


July 20, 2018 – Day 30:

Over the month, the garden was watered every other day unless it rained, and additional weeds were pulled and added to the compost pile. You can see that the paper mailers are starting to absorb moisture and break down. The seams have opened and the water has begun to penetrate the entire surface of the bag, making it “mushy.” I tried, without success, to punch my finger through the bag. The paper is actually quite strong despite being exposed to the elements for 30 days. The poly bag looks exactly like it did on Day 1.


August 28 – Day 72:

Up until the last week, it didn’t rain much in July and August (less than 2″ over the last 4 weeks according to the National Weather Service). I gave up watering my garden – and pulling weeds too, for that matter. So the bags just kind of sat there in the sun. We’ve received several inches of rain over the last 2 days and the moisture is helping the paper bags continue to break down. I could very easily punch my finger through the paper and they look well on their way to becoming part of my garden soil for next year. I’ll till them in when the garden gets closed for the season. Because the biodegradable plastic bag isn’t recyclable, I can’t justify putting it in the trash. So it will get tossed in a corner of my garden to see if it biodegrades before next year and if it doesn’t I’ll try to find a use for it.

To summarize: In looking beyond the label, “biodegradable” plastic bags definitely don’t biodegrade as quickly or as easily as paper. They’re still plastic – and that means they’ll be around for a significantly longer period of time.