Say no to Plastic bags; Say no to Pollution

Say No to Plastic bags; Say no to Pollution:  Quick navigation for reasons why plastic shopping bags should be banned.

Say no to Plastic bags

  1. Made from fossil fuels
  2. Cause of environmental pollution
  3. Problematic degradation
  4. Killing wildlife
  5. Harmful to human health
  6. Not easy to recycle
  7. High costs for cleanup
  8. Come with external costs
  9. Better alternatives are available
  10. Bans in other countries

Reasons why are plastic bags bad for us and for the environment

  • Plastic bags pollute our land and water

Plastic bags are everywhere. Look around and you will notice that plastic bags are the most common litter. Tangled in trees and fences along roads, floating in water, lying on the ground in parks and forests, surrounding garbage bins, washed off on beaches. Because they are so lightweight, plastic bags get easily picked up by wind and travel long distances by wind and water to pollute the nature.

Plastic bag litter has even caused great problems in some areas. For example, millions of discarded plastic bags clog water drainage channels and sewers in urban areas of Bangladesh. When the monsoon rains start, streets get waterlogged just after the first few minutes because the water cannot pass through clogged sewerage pipes.

Some tributaries of the river have been filled with plastic waste to the level that you could almost walk across them without getting your feet wet. Unfortunately, such a high level of pollution doesn’t come without consequences. The Pasig River is the eight worst source of ocean plastic pollution in the world.

  • Plastic bags are made from non-renewable resources and contribute to climate change

We hear everywhere around us that we need to save energy. It is good for our environment, health and global climate. But only a few of us realize that each time we accept those disposable plastic grocery bags at store checkout, we actively participate in wasting energy and depleting non-renewable resources.

The majority of plastic bags are made of polyethylene, a substance that is derived from crude oil refining and natural gas processing. Oil and natural gas are non-renewable fossil fuel-based resources and through their extraction and production, they emit greenhouse gases, which contribute to global climate change.

The production of these bags is very energy intensive. Globally, 8 to 10 percent of our current oil supply goes to a plastic bag manufacture. In the United States alone, statistics reach up to 12 million barrels of oil that are used each year to produce even more plastic bags – 100 billion more, to give you the precise number.

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 and that the world’s oil reserves contain enough oil to cover our needs through 2050, as the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates.

  • Plastic bags never break down

Petroleum-based plastic bags are composed of very resistant synthetic polymers that may take up to 1,000 years or never until they completely degrade in natural environments. What does occur in most instances is that when out in the environment, the plastic breaks up into tiny microscopic pieces that get deposited in soils (where we grow food) or contaminate waterways.

These pieces can be so small that they are invisible to our eye. Already in 2001, researchers found that the mass of microscopic plastic fragments in the North Pacific Central Gyre was 6 times higher than of plankton. The subtropical gyres of the North Pacific Ocean are also documented to contain the highest concentrations of plastic.

It’s because Asian and US coastlines release large amounts of plastic waste in the ocean. Scientists have recorded some species of zooplankton eating tiny plastic particles.

Considering what important source of food plankton is for many other species, it is clear that plastic gets distributed across the marine ecosystem.

The truth is that we do not know yet the full scale of negative impacts plastic waste can have on marine and terrestrial environments because it hasn’t been around long enough to allow us to assess possible scenarios of its influence on natural cycles.

However, one thing we know, is that by introducing a pollutant that may never break down in the environment can have implications that will far exceed any of our predictions.

  • Plastic bags are harmful to wildlife and marine life

Have you ever seen endangered sea turtles hatch? They are tinier than a palm of your hand and appear so fragile when struggling across the beach to make it to the sea.

Even human footprints left in the sand represent mountain-like obstacles in their path and waves washing up on the beach are another challenge, as they thrust them back on the dry land to try once again before finally being picked up by a return current and start swimming for their life.

Since their birth, baby turtles have only one goal – to get to the sea and swim into deep waters where they will feed and if successful grow into adult turtles. On their long journey, they will encounter many difficulties and only a small portion of them will survive.

Sadly, one of their newly acquired enemies is created by us who should protect them instead. Plastic bags floating in the ocean resemble jellyfish, one of the main sources of food for some species of sea turtles, especially the critically-endangered Leatherback turtles.

According to a study carried out in 2013, up to 35 percent of turtle deaths were caused by plastic ingestion and the probability that sea turtles will consume even more plastic increases every year. Sea turtles are not the only species suffering from plastic bag pollution of the environment. Nearly 20 years ago, a dead pelican was found with its stomach filled with 17 plastic bags.

In 2008, a crocodile in Australia died because of 25 plastic bags filling its stomach. A calf had to be put down because of indigestion caused by 8 plastic bags in its stomach. These examples could go on for a long time. Plastic bags are often mistaken for food by animals, birds, and marine life.

The consumed plastic congests the digestive tracts of these animals, and can lead to health issues such as infections, painful intestinal blockage, starvation or death by suffocation.  The most heartbreaking part of this is that the affected animals are not aware they eat something that will make them feel miserable and will slowly kill them.

Animals can also easily become entangled in this plastic waste. There were numerous cases of birds caught in plastic bags, unable to fly and feed, eventually strangling themselves to death.

Similar fate has met dolphins, seals, cats, dogs, deer and many other animals which got severely cut on their bodies due to plastic bag entanglement. National Geographic made a video on how helpless it feels to be caught in a plastic bag.

Have a look yourself to imagine the suffering of these animals. A last example of a true horror caused by plastic has been discovered just recently. A 2018 study of coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific has confirmed that plastic waste deposited on coral reefs promotes outbreaks of diseases that gradually destroy whole reef colonies. So, plastic waste only speeds up the destruction of these most biodiverse ecosystems on earth.

  • Plastic bags are harmful to human health

Many of you may have heard it already. Tiny plastic particles have been found in human feces. Microplastics were found in soft drinks like Coca Cola, in tap water, in seafood.

It has contaminated our food chain, so it should not surprise us that it can be tracked in our body. The reason to worry is that scientists do not know how our metabolism and immunity will react to the increased concentration of plastic particles in our system.

They suspect that it may add stress on the liver by introducing more pathogens into the body. Additionally, plastics in our digestive tract may affect absorption of some important trace elements (like iron) which we need for maintaining proper health.

Plastic bags and plastic products overall contain substances that are harmful to our health. The most common are inorganic dyes that are added to change the color of plastic bags.

These dyes on their own can leach toxins, but they can also be contaminated with traces of heavy metals such as lead or cadmium, both of which affect kidney health and proper functioning of other organs.

Plastic fragments in the ocean such as those from plastic bags can absorb pollutants like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PAHs (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) easily. These are known to be hormone-disrupting chemicals.

Another indirect danger of plastic bags has breeding ground in the pollution they create. Plastic waste that clogs water drainage channels and river tributaries of many Asian cities increases exposure of residents to water-borne diseases, as it creates a toxic soup that remains stranded in one place for prolonged periods of time.

  • 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.  In fact, plastic bags are considered by many recycling facilities the number one contaminant and their removal from the recycling stream costs municipalities close to $1 million a year.

Since plastic bag recycling requires a specialized equipment that can break down the plastic and mold it into a new product, most municipalities do not have the budget to include their recycling in their waste management program.

So, plastic bag recycling facilities are few and far between and transportation to one could be expensive. As a result, the actual recycling rate for plastic bags globally is between 5 to 15 percent, while in the United States it makes only 1 percent a year.

Additional problem with plastic grocery bags recycling is their cleanliness. Ideally, to be suitable for recycling, bags need to be clean to be accepted, which is often a problem, considering that we use them to carry groceries and potentially leaky goods.

  • 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, the loss of quality of life, economic loss from littering, and wildlife loss.

Unfortunately, such costs are typically not included in most economic analyses, as they are not easy to calculate because the equation would have to involve many indirect variables.

However, in 2014, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) supported the first project to calculate the “real” cost of plastic, including adverse environmental impacts of its production, use and disposal. The resulting number is staggering. Plastic use costs approximately $75 billion a year.

Muhammad Hassan

Food Technologist

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