Nonfiction in response to Responsible Consumption and Production
December 2018

Plastic Bags

By Caroline Sun

Did you know that, according to environmental protection organizations such as Animals Australia and Ocean Crusaders, there are over 100,000 marine animal deaths each year due to plastic bags in the ocean? Animals Australia also states that the average plastic bag is used for only 5 minutes, yet can take up to 1,000 years to break down in the environment. Not only does it take a long time, it never completely breaks down. In fact, every piece of plastic ever created still exists, amounting to approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic material per square mile in our oceans. To save our environment, plastic bags should not be provided to customers in stores.

An animal protection organization, Animal Friends Croatia, states that plastic bags cannot be digested if eaten, causing it to stay in the gut of the animal. This prevents food digestion and leads to a slow and painful death. But that’s not all. As plastic bags don’t break down completely, once an animal dies after ingesting plastic, the plastic is released back into the ocean. Sources such as the National Geographic and Ocean Crusaders estimate that there are approximately 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans currently. A report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation has found that one dump truck of plastic bags is entering our oceans every day. They estimate that in 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

Another reason why plastic bags should not be offered to customers is that it has a major effect on the economy. Food Democracy estimates that it takes about 430,000 gallons of oil to produce 100 million plastic bags. This might not be a problem if we were reusing them; however, the One Bag at a Time organization states that the United States throws away an estimated 100 billion plastic bags annually. That is 430,000 gallons of oil, used only for an average of 5 minutes. The price is not only for customers store owners also have to pay massive amounts for plastic bags each year. The Rensselaer County Legislature in New York states that the annual cost for U.S. retailers alone is estimated at $4 billion. There’s also the cleanup costs. One Bag at a Time says that national litter clean up efforts amount to over $11 billion, including plastic pickup.

Finally, the disposal process of plastic bags causes pollution. Project Greenbag says that burning any type of plastic releases toxic and cancer-causing chemicals, which are often inhaled by humans and animals. One particular chemical is dioxin, which has been known to affect the immune system and potentially cause cancer. While many would turn to recycling, that option is not as good as it seems. Health Guidance states that studies show few plants actually recycle plastic. They either burn them or send them off to the landfill, causing less than 1% of the bags to actually be recycled. Even if they were recycled, One Bag at a Time declares that recycling uses a lot of energy and chemicals, which sort and break down the plastic to make it ready for second use. They also say that paper bags are no better, as they require more resources and energy to make. Even worse, 80% of paper bags are not recycled and end up in a landfill, where their impact is similar to plastic bags.

A good plan of action would be to promote the use of canvas or cloth bags that can be reused by customers. For example, the Cancer Schmancer Movement estimates that by bringing their own bags, customers can each save between 400 to 600 plastic bags per year and businesses can reduce costs paid for plastic bags annually. Cloth bags actually save money for customers too. According to One Bag at a Time, the price retailers pay for plastic bags is passed on to customers as “hidden costs,” or raised product prices.

Changes are already happening all over the world. California became the first state to ban plastic bags statewide, while Hawaii prohibits plastic bags at grocery stores. Also, according to Jenny Che from The Huffington Post, many “Zero Waste,” or packaging free, stores have opened all over Europe and are slowly moving over to North America. Botswana, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda are all examples of countries that have banned the use of plastic bags. Join this worldwide movement to stop plastic problems now and remove plastic bags from stores.

Works Cited:

“How Plastic Bags Affect Wildlife.” Animal Friends Croatia. Web. 13 July 2017. http://www.prijatelji-zivotinja.hr/index.en.php?id=934

“Plastic Bag Facts.” Rensselaer County Legislature. Web. 13 July 2017. http://www.rensselaercounty.org/enviroment%20management%20council/plastic%20bag%20facts.htm

"The Effects of Plastic Bags on Environment." HealthGuidance.org. Web. 13 July 2017. http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/14901/1/The-Effects-of-Plastic-Bags-on-Environment.html

"How Many Animals Die from Plastic Bags Each Year? Say 'NO' to Plastic Bags!" Say NO to Plastic Bags! // Animals Australia. Web. 13 July 2017. http://www.animalsaustralia.org/features/say_no_to_plastic_bags.php

"Plastic Bags & Climate Change." 1 Bag at a Time. Web. 13 July 2017. http://1bagatatime.com/learn/plastic-bags/

"Plastic Bags Must Never Be Burned." Project GreenBag. Web. 13 July 2017. http://www.projectgreenbag.com/news/plastic-bags-must-never-be-burned

"Plastics Do's and Don'ts." Plastics Do's and Don'ts | Cancer Schmancer. Web. 13 July 2017. http://www.cancerschmancer.org/prevention/plastics-dos-and-donts

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