On 14th August 2019, Pakistan finally entered the ever-growing club of countries that are taking the threat of plastic pollution seriously and likewise became 128th country to ban the use of plastic bags.
Plastic bags are everywhere in our environment and they seem to be working just fine for everyone and in fact have become a part of our modern lives. However, it’s about time we start finding something else to carry our things because our environment surely can’t take any more of it. The convenience and accessibility of these plastic bags come at a high cost to the environment and likewise negatively affect human health.
Let me reveal to you that plastic bags were initially invented to save the planet. Originally paper bags were introduced but soon afterwards people realized that they are damaging our environment as they result in forest clearances and alternatively shifted to plastic bags, which ended up doing no good as well.
Now, most of you must be wondering, what exactly is the problem with these plastic bags? How can such a flimsy thing be of such concern? Why should we pay attention to how we use them?
Have you ever heard of Plastic Shopping Bag Pollution? Well if you haven’t ; let me tell you that it surely exists. Plastic shopping bags on land are known to be one of the most familiar types of litter which eventually result in aesthetic deterioration. In fact, they have greatly contributed to the huge amount of plastic remains found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Wild Studies Institute (IWS) has even informed that 80% of the trash in the ocean originates from the land. Moreover, build-ups of large quantities of these plastic bags ultimately lead to blockages of local drainage systems. For instance, the floods in Bangladesh, 20 years ago, were partially blamed for blockages in drainage systems from plastic shopping bags.
Secondly, the majority of wildlife on Earth exists in the Seas and Oceans. This means that thousands of animals are at risk of injury and death by being entangled in plastic bag flotsam or by consuming floating plastic shopping bags which are mistaken as jellyfish by marine animals that ingest them.
Now the main issue is that plastic bags, like other plastics, do not biodegrade. They only ‘photo-degrade’ in sunlight, breaking slowly into microscopic bits – a process scientists estimate takes thousands of years. This implies that all the plastic that has ever been produced up till today has not degraded yet!
Meanwhile, the environment is paying the price. Simply Google ‘animals eat plastic bags’ and you will find hundreds of stories of poor animals that died from suffocation or from eating the plastic bags! When the animals die and decompose, the plastic bag in their stomachs are released into the environment again as it doesn’t degrade for thousands of years remember? This possibly kills another animal. It’s like a never-ending killing cycle!
In response to the problem of plastic bag usage and to acknowledge the negative effects of this issue on our environment, more and more countries are banning or modifying the use of plastic bags in supermarkets.
Retailers are no longer automatically providing plastic bags. Some have started charging for them hoping that customers will be discouraged and so will bring their own reusable bags. In 2002, Ireland made a simple change – they started charging a 15 cent tax on plastic bags at stores, which used to be given away free of charge before. And it worked effectively! After the tax was initiated, plastic bag usage went down drastically. Other states and countries have followed suit and implemented similar plastic bag taxes.
These global efforts for decreasing plastic pollution were aimed at reducing the harm that plastic does to marine ecosystems and wildlife. However, the efforts of governments and retailers will go to waste if we, the consumers, don’t contribute to this effort as well.
Reducing the amount of plastic trash in the ocean doesn’t seem that hard; people just need to use less plastic but it can be very hard to break people’s habits. While the recyclable symbol of three arrows in a circle is on many plastic shopping bags, still people hesitate to recycle. Can you believe that only 1 to 3% of plastic bags are recycled worldwide?
Plastic bags are indeed a cheap and convenient way to carry things around. But there are other, better, alternatives. We just need to recondition our minds and make it a habit.
Start by bringing your own Eco-Friendly bags. Trust me, reusable bags are the best environmental solution. They are designed to be reused and have significantly lower environmental impacts than single-use bags. Reusable bags cost less per-use than either plastic or paper single-use bags and they tend to reduce litter, saving communities thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. Just by bringing your own bag when you go shopping, you’ll be helping our environment in a very big way.
Most importantly, patronize businesses that support the effort to reduce plastic bag usage and don’t get annoyed at retailers for inconveniencing you if they don’t give you a plastic bag as they are doing it for our own good.
Furthermore, spread awareness by not accepting plastic bags from retailers and remind them that it’s toxic to our environment. Let’s start educating the people about the hazards of plastic bag usage so they will continue the efforts and go green themselves.