Recent years have seen producers taking great strides in reducing the level of packaging and waste that many consumer products display. However, there is a great deal more work than needs to be done in order to further bring society in line with sustainable concepts that would not only serve to reduce waste but also to protect the extant environment. One of the debates that is currently raging in both consumer and producer circles is whether or not plastic bags should be banned. As a function of this debate, this particular analysis will seek to understand and differentiate several arguments with respect to why plastic bags should be banned all stop. The arguments which will be employed will be concentric upon the following areas: the level of environmental damage caused by plastic bag usage, the level of waste that this portends, the non-biodegradable nature of plastic bags, the societal impacts of litter, key wildlife concerns, and lastly the health hazard to infants and toddlers that plastic bags represent. As a function of this level of analysis it is the hope of this author that the reader will be able to understand some of the most salient points for why plastic bags should ultimately ceased to exist within the current consumer culture. The overall level of environmental damage caused by plastic bags is quite difficult to ascertain. However, when one considers the fact that literally tens of millions of plastic bags are both produced, consumed, and ultimately thrown away each and every year, the full extent of the environmental repercussions of such an action come clearly interview. If one considers the means by which almost all consumer products are packaged in plastic bags, the full impact of the environmental damage that these cause is understood within the construct of the consumer society that is currently displayed (McLaughlin 50). Ultimately, plastic bags represent a threat to the environment due to the fact that they exist for thousands, even tens of thousands, of years after their few brief moments of usage. Such a trade-off is difficult to imagine in the sense that ultimately, most plastic bags are only used momentarily in order to transport consumer products from their place of purchase to the home. This of course brings the analysis to the level of waste that such an action illustrates. However, there is a further issue that needs to be discussed with regards to the environmental impact in the ultimate wastefulness that the use of plastic bags demonstrate. Whereas almost every shareholder in society is uniquely aware of the fact that these bags are composed of plastic, either from original or from postconsumer content, you consider the fact that the original material for these plastic bags is composed of processed oil. The production of plastic bags requires an estimated 112 million barrels of oil in any given year (Green 32). Naturally, this represents ancillary environmental damage that is caused by the Roma to release source is that required to create these bags. Due to the fact that oil is of course a fossil fuel and ultimately an exhaustible resource, continuing to create hundreds even millions of plastic bags for quick consumption each and every year is a foolish use of the limited resource; not to mention the additional environmental impact that throwing these devices away entails. Although no exact figures exist, it is been estimated that upwards of 380 billion plastic bags are consumed each and every year in the United States alone. The sheer mass that this portends cannot fully be understood due to the fact t ...Show more
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.
These amazing animals should be protected, not hunted!
- 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.
- Plastic bags are made from non-renewable resources and contribute to climate change. The majority of plastic bags are made of polypropylene, a material that is made from petroleum and natural gas. Both of these materials are non-renewable fossil fuel-based resources and through their extraction and production, they create greenhouse gases, which contribute to global climate change.
The production of these bags is also very energy intensive. To produce nine plastic bags, it takes the equivalent energy to drive a car one kilometer (more than 0.5 miles).
Using these non-renewable resources to make plastic bags is very short-sighted, considering that the typical useful life of each plastic bag is about 12 minutes .
- 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 .
- Plastic bags are harmful to wildlife and marine life. Plastic bags and their associated plastic pieces are often mistaken for food by animals, birds, and marine life like fish and sea turtles. The consumed plastic then congests the digestive tracts of these animals, and can lead to health issues such as infections and even death by suffocation. Animals can also easily become entangled in this plastic .
- 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.
- Plastic bags are costly to pay for and to clean up after. While we may not pay for plastic bags directly when we go shopping, they are anything but “free.” Plastic bags cost about 3-5 cents each, and that cost is then incorporated into prices of the items sold at stores. The cost of plastic bag cleanup is about 17 cents per bag, and on average, taxpayers end up paying about $88 per year just on plastic bag waste. So that “free” plastic bag isn’t so free after all.
- Plastic bags are not easy to recycle. As plastic bags tend to get caught in recycling machinery, most recycling facilities do not have the capacity to recycle plastic bags and therefore do not accept them. As a result, the actual recycling rate for plastic bags is about 5%.
- 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.
- There are better alternatives available, and jobs to go with them! Once a person gets into the habit of bringing reusable bags when shopping, it is not much of an inconvenience at all. Reusable shopping bags are very durable and can be reused many times over the course of their useful life. The manufacturing of reusable bags is also another opportunity to create sustainable products and the jobs that go with them.
- Other governments are banning plastic bags, so yours should too… or at least make people pay for them. To date, more than 40 countries and municipalities around the world have instituted plastic bag bans. The United Nations Environmental Programme Secretariat has recommended a ban on all plastic bags globally.
For those governments that are opposed to full bans on plastic bags, another option is to institute a plastic bag tax, where consumers would pay a small fee for each plastic bag. This strategy has been proven to greatly reduce plastic bag usage by consumers.
In Ireland, where this fee was instituted in 2002, plastic bag usage has been decreased by about 90% . Several other countries and cities are now also considering such a tax, including the UK, Australia and New York City.