Plastic bags are a convenient way to carry our purchased goods when we go shopping. They are a part of our modern lives, and we don’t tend to think much about them. However, this convenience of plastic shopping bags carries with it a very high cost to the environment and also negatively affects human health. Because there are so many negative impacts from the use of plastic shopping bags, many cities and countries from around the world have already put plastic bag bans in place.
The following are a number of reasons why local and national governments should consider instituting bans on plastic bags. Besides, the use of plastic bags is considered as one of the great issues that humans are facing in their contemporary life. Cities such as China have banned the use of plastics. Bangladesh and India has only banned the use and sale of polythene bags which basically have thickness of less than 50 microns.
Plastic bags are not biodegradable. They fly off trash piles, garbage trucks, and landfills, and then clog storm water infrastructure, float down waterways, and spoil the landscape. If all goes well, they end up in proper landfills where they may take 1,000 years or more to break down into ever smaller particles that continue to pollute the soil and water. Plastic bags also pose a serious danger to birds and marine mammals that often mistake them for food. Floating plastic bags regularly fool sea turtles into thinking they are one of their favorite prey, jellyfish. Thousands of animals die each year after swallowing or choking on discarded plastic bags. This mistaken identity issue is apparently a problem even for camels in the Middle East.
Reasons to not use or ban plastic
On average, plastic bags take 1,000 years to break down, meaning this is a problem that won’t go away anytime soon. Therefore, people the world over are being encouraged to adopt new methods of carrying products, such as reusable bags, to cut down on plastic consumption. While many people understand that plastic carrier bags are bad for the environment, what exactly makes them so harmful? So I would really like to make people aware about all the demerits of using plastic.
1. Plastic bags pollute our land and water
Because they are so lightweight, plastic bags can travel long distances by wind and water. They litter our landscapes, get caught in fences and trees, float around in waterways, and can eventually make their way into the world’s oceans.
2. Plastic bags create litter
The Northern Territory Environmental Protection Authority states that litter collection – of which plastic bags are a major contributor – costs Australian government’s $200 million each year. This is a colossal amount of money, and if plastic bag usage was decreased, it’s also likely that the amount spent on cleaning up litter would go down too. This would free the environment of toxic materials and other related issues caused by excessive plastic use, as well as making our planet are prettier place to live.
3. The plastic bags are made from non-renewable sources and on this account, highly contribute to climate change
Most of plastic is made of polypropylene which is a material manufactured from petroleum and natural gas. All of the materials are non-renewable fossil fuel-based materials and through their extraction and even production, greenhouse gases are created which further contribute to global climate change.
4. Plastic are hazardous to Marine Life, Sea Birds, Animals
Plastic bags do not degrade in the marine environment. They are photo-degrade, meaning they break down into smaller and smaller bits of plastic but never completely go away. Marine animals, such as turtles, and seabirds see these micro plastic particles floating in the water and think that it’s food. Plastic cannot be digested; thus the plastic blocks the digestive track and the turtle or bird dies from starvation because their food can’t be digested. It is estimated that over 267 species of seabirds have plastic in their bodies. Numerous studies have proven this fact.
5. Plastic bags never break down
Petroleum-based plastic bags do not truly degrade. What does occur is that when out in the environment, the plastic breaks up into tiny little pieces that end up in the ocean to be consumed by wildlife. Today, there are an estimated 46,000-1,000,000 plastic fragments floating within every square mile of our world’s oceans.
6. Plastic bags are expensive
The idea that plastic bags are a freebie when doing your weekly shop or other activities is a fallacy. The production price is often incorporated into taxes and other fees; meaning that the price of your groceries, clothes and other items increase to factor in these associated costs. This suggests that although eco-friendly bags may seem initially more expensive, in the long run they work out cheaper – so the more you use them the less you pay!
Tasmanian residents are in effect paying less for their goods compared to some of the rest of the country, due to the state-wide ban on plastic bags in retail. Tasmanian Plastic Shopping Bags Ban Act 2013 intends to legally reduce plastic bag usage and increase awareness of other green alternative options.
7. A lot of energy is used in producing plastic bags
The total amount of energy required driving a car for one kilometer or 0.5 miles is the equivalent energy required to produce nine plastic bags. It is not rational that these non-renewable resources are used to make plastic bags when the typical useful life of each and every plastic bag is around 12 minutes.
8. Plastic bags Contribute to Over-Burdened Landfills
Municipal solid waste (msw) includes all residential, commercial and business trash hauled away each week by the garbage man. In 2011, we as a society generated some 250 million tons of msw, of which 18% was plastic (all plastic, not just bags).After recovery of materials in the waste stream by recycling and composting, 164 million tons of msw were discarded, of which 18% were plastics. Discarded means the msw was hauled to a landfill. So 29,520,000 tons of plastic was placed in landfills in 2011. Reportedly, about 3% of plastic waste is plastic bags, so 885,600 tons of plastic bags were placed in landfills.
According to the American Chemical Council, a plastic bag weighs 4-5 grams, which is .141096 ounces. This means there is approximately 113 plastic bags in a pound. Therefore, if my math is correct, we placed over 200 million plastic bags into landfills in 2011. Plastic bags, those that are captured, do contribute to already over-burdened landfills. Cities and other jurisdictions spend millions of dollars each year to maintain the landfills. Therefore, taxpayers are spending their money for storage of plastic bags forever.
9. Plastic bags are harmful to human health
Plastic fragments in the ocean such as those from plastic bags can absorb pollutants like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) and PAHs (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), which are known to be hormone-disrupting chemicals . When marine organisms consume plastics in our oceans, these chemicals can make their way through the ocean’s food web and then into humans who eat fish and other marine organisms.
10. Plastic harm animals
As plastic bags are lightweight and float easily, this means they can travel long distances when picked up by the wind. Often, the bags will fall along the coast and other areas of animal habitats, which creatures then attempt to eat, only to choke and eventually starve to death. After the animal carcass has rotted away, the bag is normally released – only for the whole process to be repeated again.
Removing plastic bags from our society will not only rid us of waste and unnecessary expense, it will also help to protect our wildlife and landscape for which Australia is renowned for. According to Animals Australia, a national animal welfare charity, 100,000 animals are killed by plastic bags every year.
11. Plastic bags are not easy to recycle
Plastic bags are said to present significant challenge in terms of recycling. Recycling facilities do not have the capacity to recycle plastic bags and thus do not accept them. Therefore, the actual recycling rate for plastic bags is around 5%.
12. Plastic bags tend to last more; perhaps forever and we even use so many of them
Plastic bags never degrade completely which shows that as more of them are produced by companies, then more are introduced into the environment. Therefore, the more the amount of plastic bags the more there is plastic pollution and its effects. Banning the use of plastic bags will help reduce this great effect.
13.These plastic bags are impacting the environment negatively in that they are making the Great Pacific garbage patch bigger every minute
Most of the plastic materials once released into the environment find their way into waterways and once they are there they dumped into oceans. Great Pacific Ocean is one such area negatively affected with all the plastic material. The more they are thrown into the oceans the more they increase causing the garbage patch to increase in size.
14. Plastic bags have external costs
Beyond the costs associated with the production and purchasing of plastic bags by retailers, there are many external costs that are often not considered. These costs include the true environmental costs of resource extraction and depletion, quality of life loss, economic loss from littering, and wildlife loss. Sadly, such costs are typically not included in most economic analyses, but nonetheless, these negative impacts are very real.
Consider a Personal Ban on Plastic Bags
Some businesses have stopped offering their customers plastic bags, and many communities are considering a ban on plastic bags — San Francisco was the first to do that in 2007. Some states are experimenting with solutions like mandatory deposits, purchasing fees, and outright bans.
Various grocery store chains now have policies to minimize use, including requesting a small fee to clients who would like plastic bags to be provided to them. Meanwhile, here are a couple of things you can do to help:
- Switch to reusable shopping bags
Reusable shopping bags made from renewable materials conserve resources by replacing paper and plastic bags. Reusable bags are convenient and come in a variety of sizes, styles and materials. When not in use, some reusable bags can be rolled or folded small enough to fit easily into a pocket. Make sure you wash them regularly.
- Recycle your plastic bags
If you do end up using plastic bags now and then, be sure to recycle them. Many grocery stores now collect plastic bags for recycling. If yours does not, check with your community recycling program to learn how to recycle plastic bags in your area.
The Plastic Industry Responds
As with most environmental issues, the plastic bag problem is not as simple as it seems. Plastic industry groups like to remind us that compared to the paper bag alternative, plastic bags are light, have low transportation costs, and require comparatively little (non-renewable) resources to make, while generating less waste.
They also are completely recyclable, provided your community has access to the right facilities. Their contribution to landfills is actually fairly small, and by the industry’s estimate, 65% of Americans actually re-purpose and reuse their plastic bags. Of course, these arguments are less convincing when the comparisons are made against washable, sturdy reusable shopping bags.
Extremely thin and lightweight, plastic carryout bags will carry their weight 100 times over, and more. Surveys have shown that a plastic carryout bag is used for approximately 12 minutes and then it is discarded. Some are reused a few times but the majority is tossed immediately. 88% of plastic bags are disposed of improperly. The EPA says that only 12% of plastic carryout bags are recycled.
The generally accepted definition of reusable is: A bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and meets all the following requirements:
- It has a minimum lifetime of 125 uses, which means the capability of carrying a minimum of 22 pounds, 125 times, over a distance of at least 175 feet;
- They are machine washable or capable of being cleaned and disinfected;
- It does not contain lead, cadmium, or any other heavy metal in toxic amounts as defined by applicable State and Federal standards and regulations for packaging or reusable bags.