Studies show that chemicals and paper are the most commonly used green products. But as the sustainable movement grows, end users will be looking to "green" their entire product arsenal. One product category distributors have been calling and e-mailing me about recently is environmentally friendly can liners. I thought I would take this opportunity to share some information.

In order to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines, bags must have a minimum of 10 percent post-consumer recycled content. But manufacturers and industry experts agree this is a problematic solution. Post-consumer plastic tends to be weaker, so more material is needed to strengthen the bag. This is counter-intuitive to the green movement: creating thicker bags with higher mil counts does not help reduce our resources. However, some government officials have wised up. In California, for example, bags with less than 0.7 mil are not required to meet the EPA's post-consumer content guidelines. Hopefully, more states will make this adjustment, too.

Many green programs follow the EPA guidelines. However, if your customers don't need to meet these requirements, there are other green options to consider. Oxo-degradable liners are made from the same materials as traditional bags, but also include a special additive that oxidizes, or breaks down, the bag. Oxygen activates the additive, causing the bag to disintegrate in top layers of landfills in anywhere from two months to five years (significantly faster than traditional bags that take 20 to 1,000 years). That said, if the bag is placed deeper in a landfill where there is no oxygen, it will not degrade the same as a traditional liner. But cost being the same, having potential for disintegration is greener than no disintegration at all.

Another alternative is a hydro-biodegradable liner commonly made from cornstarch. These bags are useful for food waste diversion programs in restaurants, schools and other facilities and should be taken to a composting center. While they will break down in upper layers of landfills, in deeper levels, they could emit methane, a greenhouse gas, during decomposition.