From CopperWikiplastic bags are being consumed every minute across the globe. This amounts to 150 bags a year for every person on earth. A majority of those bags go right out the door of your local grocery store and end up at the dump. The rest do not make it that far, and ultimately end up as litter.
Shoppers worldwide are using close to 1 trillion plastic bags per year. These plastic bags are choking our drains, their presence in the environment is killing many species and in poor countries people carry cooked food in them, which in turn is affecting their health. Introduced in the 1970s, plastic bags now account for four out of every five bags handed out at the grocery store.
Why should I be aware of this?
Plastic bags of all kinds present a significant and costly form of pollution, and waste. Plastic bags on streets, beaches, and parkways are more than just an eyesore. They pose a serious danger to the environment. Most plastic bags find their way into the storm drain system and the marine environment. Even plastic bags that get “thrown away” do not always make it to the landfill, but can get diverted by wind or improper handling.
Ultra-thin bags pose the most serious threat to the environment because they are typically used once and then thrown away, littering streets, fields and streams and creating what is called “white pollution”.
In several poor and developing countries, plastic bags are used to carry food by citizens -- as they are cheap, convenient and air tight. Liquid, spicy or fatty food items are packed in non-food grade and coloued plastic bags. The carcinogens - the agents which cause cancer - are likely to be generated during chemical reactions that take place in plastic materials, due to temperature variations. The regular intake of such food items containing carcinogens is very hazardous to health over a period of time.
All about plastic bags
- According to an estimate more than 100 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year all over the world.
- India produces 2 million tonnes of plastic bags and the per capita consumption is 2 kg.
- In European countries, per capita plastic consumption is 60 kg per person per year while that in US it is 80 kg per person per year.
- According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. The estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion.
- According to the industry publication Modern Plastics, Taiwan consumes 20 billion bags a year — 900 per person.
- According to Australia’s Department of Environment, Australians consume 6.9 billion plastic bags each year—326 per person.
- 20% of solid municipal wastes in US is plastic.
- Non-degradable plastics accumulate at the rate of 25 million tonnes per year.
- Ten billion plastic bags are handed out to British shoppers every year – that’s 290 per person – each one being used for around 12 minutes, but remaining on the planet for the next 500 years.
Government regulations and plastic bags
- In June 2008, China introduced new regulations, which banned flimsy bags, less than 0.025 mm thick, and shopkeepers were asked to charge for carrier bags. Shopkeepers found breaking the law would face fines and could have their goods confiscated.
- For the past five years, Ireland has imposed a nationwide tax of 15 cents on all supermarket shopping bags, reducing their use by 90 per cent and raising money for environmental projects.
- Italy is due to introduce a ban on plastic bags by 2010.
- Rwanda and Bangladesh have also banned the use of plastic bags.
Supporters of plastic bags
Carrier bag producers say they are being unfairly demonised, as bags make up only a small proportion of plastic sent to landfill sites. They say most consumers already reuse or recycle their plastic bags, while alternatives such as paper bags or heavier grade plastic bin bags could be more damaging to the environment.
Carrier Bag Consortium US opines "When people are deprived of free plastic bags they just have to buy them, although the latest research shows than in excess of 70 per cent of people do reuse their plastic carrier bags.
Plastic bags and your environment
Plastic carry-bags are the intrinsic part of the worlds landscape,which is one of the most ignored environmental and health problems. Being non-biodegradable, plastic bags can choke the earth. They are making the soil unfertile, apart from polluting ground and water through leaching of toxic substances. They choke open drains, sewer lines and even the stray cattle foraging them for food. There are to many plastic bags being wasted!!
Plastic never fully decomposes. Over time it goes through a process of photo degradation and breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. These substances cannot be converted by any known organisms and as such remain as plastic in landfills, rivers and oceans. In a 1998 survey of the North Pacific Ocean, 89% of waste observed comprised plastic products.
Plastic bags and biodiversity
The presence of plastic in our environment is killing many species. Sea turtles, whales and dolphins are among sea animals being directly affected by plastic waste products, often mistaking plastic bags for food, causing slow and painful deaths to these animals over a prolonged period of time.
- According to Greenpeace, more than 1 million birds and 100,000 marine mammals are estimated to perish each year by either eating or becoming trapped in plastic waste.
- Eating plastic bags results in death of 100 cattle per day in U.P. in India. In the stomach of a dead cow, as much as 35 kg of plastic was found.
- Turtles are particularly badly affected by plastic pollution, and all seven of the world's turtle species are already either endangered or threatened for a number of reasons, one of them being plastics. Many sea turtles have been found dead with plastic bags in their stomachs. Turtles mistake floating transparent plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them. In one dead turtle found off Hawaii in the Pacific more than 1000 pieces of plastic were found in the stomach.
- A recent US report concluded that more than 100000 marine mammals die each year in the world's oceans by eating or becoming entangled in plastic rubbish, and the position is worsening.
- World-wide, 75 marine bird species are known to eat plastic articles. This includes 36 species found off South Africa.
- A recent study of blue petrel chicks at South Africa's remote Marion Island showed that 90% of chicks examined had plastic in their stomachs apparently fed to them accidentally by their parents.
- South African seabirds are among the worst affected in the world. Plastics may remain in the stomachs, blocking digestion and possibly causing starvation.
What can I do about it?
Just saying no to plastic bags is not enough as it still begs the question of what to carry goods home in. We need to go for an alternative such as eco friendly bags. A bag made from a bio-degradable material is not considered eco-friendly if it releases a large amount of greenhouse gases during its production.
Go for eco-friendly bags
What is an eco friendly bag?
- Most of the eco friendly bags are made of natural fibres which are biodegradable. These bags are not only attractive but also durable and long lasting. Made of attractive and light weight fabrics, these bags are comfortable and classy.
Consider bio-degradable material
We should consider how the material has been grown, harvested and distributed. An eco-friendly bag thus should be bio-degradable, save on energy and materials, contribute only minimally to pollution in its growth, processing and delivery and meet reasonable ethical standards of manufacture as regards consequences to humans and other forms of life. For instance, an unbleached fiber has a lower environmental profile than a bleached fiber, if all other things are equal. While this is rarely true or even knowable, such concerns should be placed in the balance when determining which material to use. Too, the means by which animal hair, horns, claws or teeth are harvested will also have an impact on the eco-friendliness of plastic alternatives. In most of the world, slavery is officially forbidden ... yet labor practices that closely resemble it are allowed. This is another consideration. If we are to protect other animals from abuse, upon what basis would we make an exception for humans?
Use of recyclable and re-usable bags
Some suggest using recyclable and reusable bags to make a deep impact. These would include natural fibre or paper bags to save the planet from environmental pollution. A few also advocate the thick plastic bags that can be reused. Broadly speaking, they support the use of any bag that lasts.
- Fairtrade-certified bag -- Bag made from eco fibers that is “produced to fair-trade principles” and is made from organically grown, unbleached material.
- Change in consumer behavior -- Consumers are accustomed to entering a store without a bag in their hand, placing items in a metal cart and then being issued a bag or box at the checkout to return to their home with. This encourages them to buy more on a single trip (good for the retailer / saves on fuel) but resulting in the use of many plastic bags, especially as the lighter weight bags cannot carry much weight and thus require lighter lading.
- Consumers wishing to be part of the solution will have to secure several heavy-weight bags of their own and accustom themselves to carrying the empty bags into the store. A part of the payback is that the heavier bags have nearly no danger of spilling their contents onto the pavement due to bursting.
Consider paper bags
While there is no argument about the fact that paper is bio-degradable and plastic is not -- there are different opinions about which is a more eco-friendly bag. Consider this:
- Plastic bags consume 40% less energy to produce than paper bags.
- Plastic bags generate 80% less solid waste than paper bags.
- During their lifecycle paper bags produce 70 times more air pollutants than plastic bags.
- Paper bags produce 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
- Plastic takes up to 1,000 years to decompose.
- Over 100,000 birds and marine life die each year, due to an encounter with plastic debris, much of it plastic bags
- Plastic bags are causing more damage than paper bags; especially plastic bags with thickness less than 20 microns.
- It takes 430,000 gallons of oil to produce 100 million plastic bags, according to Worldwatch Institute.
- Environmentalists estimate that plastic bags could take anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years to disintegrate.
- China consumes 37 million barrels of crude oil each year to manufacture more than one trillion plastic bags.
- The plastic industry in the US alone is $ 50 billion per year
- Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute.
- Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.
- Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.
- Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC, one group harvests 30,000 per month.
- China's war against plastic bags comes into force
- Facts and figures regarding the true cost of plastic bags
- DON’T THINK OF A PLASTIC BAG!
- How green is your bag?
- The Horrible Facts -- Paper v's Plastic
- Plastic pollution
- Say "NO" to Plastic Carry Bags
- Are Plastic Grocery Bags Sacking the Environment? National Geographic News