Can you imagine how many plastic bags we use and then throw away every week? Have you ever kept a track of how many you use and dispose each week?
We get takeout food, make pharmacy purchases, have our clothing bagged, and our groceries double-bagged every time there’s a need to do so.
These single-use plastic bags come free with almost all purchases, and because they don't cost us anything, we don't assign a value to them. But this supposed 'free' commodity has a true cost to them - an ecological cost.
The environment pays the price not only in the non-renewable resources that is used to create and transport the bags, but in the waste and pollution created when the bags are disposed of.
Think plastic bags aren't a big deal? Let's take a closer look...
How harmful can single-use plastics be?
Disposable lightweight shopping bags are commonly made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic. While it may has a convenient application, it doesn't make sense to use a disposable bag for several minutes that can take up to a thousand years to breakdown depending on how it's been disposed.
However some researchers found that some plastic disposed in the ocean can break down in just one year - but this isn't a good thing. The bag actually leaves chemicals and toxic particles (microplastics) behind which is then consumed by fish, birds and other marine life
Should plastic bags be banned?
Plastic is non-biodegradable, causing pollution, and contributing to climate change. When burned, it diffuses harmful smoke while emitting some radiation. Known to be generally harmful to wildlife and marine life, plastic bags represent choking hazards for animals.
Plastic bags end up stuffing landfills, clogging sewers, polluting animal habitats, and even fluttering in trees for years. Rampant problems associated with plastic bags include the use of non-renewable resources (such as crude oil, gas, and coal) and the pollution it creates.
When we consider that these bags create so much destruction, the answer to the question of whether plastic bags should be banned seems straightforward: of course they should be banned. Consumers don't seem to have the will to stop consuming them so it makes sense for the government to implement measures to ban them.
Let’s take a closer look at “Ban the Bag” initiatives.
In many countries, there has been a massive phase-out of lightweight disposable plastic bags. Some governments have taken one or all of the following actions:
- banned the sale of lightweight bags,
- charge customers for lightweight bags,
- and/or generate taxes from the stores who sell them.
The Bangladesh government was the first to do so in 2002, imposing a total ban on the bag. Such a ban has also been applied in countries such as Rwanda, China, Taiwan and Macedonia.
Some countries in Western Europe impose a fee per bag. Bans, partial bans, and fees have been enacted by some local jurisdictions in North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the U.K.
Australians leading the way
The ACT in Australia banned plastic bags on November 1, 2011 becoming the first state or territory in the country to do so. The ban applied to all retailers for single-use, lightweight polyethylene polymer plastic bags that are less than 35 microns in thickness (these are the thin plastic bags with handles that were typically supplied at supermarket check-outs).
Overall, the ban has reduced plastic bag use, specifically with shoppers encouraged to bring their own reusable bags. The volume of plastic bag waste going to landfill has been cut by around one-third, evidence that the law has had a positive environmental outcome.
The Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmania have also banned single-use plastic shopping bags and New South Wales and Queensland have also passed legislation which will come into effect this year and next.
To date, over 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.
With that, let’s continue to promote social and environmental responsibility by helping the world save the planet. You can motivate your families and friends to also do their share by not using single-use plastic bags or by sending letters to local business and other government agencies.
Here’s a letter template that you can use to help push the “Ban the Bag” legislation in your part of the world. We know we can't wait for all humans to do the right thing, the use of single-use plastic has come to pervade our daily lives. Habits are hard to change. That's why we need your help to encourage your community leaders and elected officials to step in and move to ban single-use plastics. This is by far the quickest and easiest way to deal with this escalating environmental problem.
Designation & name of elected official:
Dear Mr/Ms __________,
Disposable single-use plastic bags, introduced just 25 years ago, are currently consumed at an alarming global rate of 500 billion per year.
As a concerned citizen and constituent of ___________, I am writing to ask you to consider introducing legislature that totally bans the use of such toxic material or at the very least charging or taxing the consumption of these bags at point of sale.
Single-use disposable bags present an insidious threat to our environment on different levels. Their manufacture, transportation and disposal use large quantities of non-renewable resources and release equally large amounts of global-warming gases. Ecologically, hundreds of thousands of marine and wildlife animals die every year when they eat plastic bags mistaken for food.
Not to mention the astronomical costs of cleaning up the environment, a financial burden usually left to budget-tight councils and municipalities.
These problems can be mitigated by simply advocating—and legislating—the consumption of fewer disposable bags and promoting the use of reusable ones. One easy way to do this is by charging for their usage at the point of purchase.
Plastic bans are reported to be successful by those governments and agencies that implement them. For example, the Australian Capital Territory's (ACT) plastic bag ban was reviewed in 2012 and 2014, and found:
- more than 70% of people surveyed did not want the ban overturned; and,
- 65% of Canberra grocery shoppers supported the ban for environmental reasons and agreed it had a positive effect on the environment.
I am certain that should we ban plastic bags or at the very least restrict its availability by charging or taxing disposable plastic bag consumption, we too will benefit from the positive impacts.
This is an easy, win-win solution to a problem that has gotten out of control. Let's do the right thing!
Address, including postcode: ________________