Plastic bags were founded in Sweden in 1965 and introduced to the U.S. in 1979. They were cheaper, more durable, and waterproof, unlike paper bags. In 1982, two of the biggest U.S grocery chains, Safeway and Kroger, made the switch from paper to plastic bags and, by the end of the decade, plastic bags dominated the world.
Shortly after, these bags began serving other purposes besides grocery shopping. People started using them to pick up their dog’s waste, carry items with them to the mall, as bin liners for small trash bins in their house, and takeout orders used by fast-food chains. If used and recycled properly, plastic bags wouldn’t be looked at as problematic.
Today, as the world shifts its attention towards sustainability and the fight against climate change, the practicality and effectiveness of these carrier bags are no longer as attractive as they once were.
The Harsh Truth about Plastic Bags
Unfortunately, most people don’t recycle or use plastic bags properly. After using the bag once, it is usually tossed out in the open, either on the street or on the beach. Also, these bags aren’t even good for the environment because they’re made out of fossil fuels. Plastic bag pollution is a serious problem because it affects how humans and animals live.
These seemingly harmless bags threaten marine life animals as they destroy their home and take their lives. Animals such as albatrosses, fish, and sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for food. Consequently, they digest the toxic waste in their bodies. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, about 34 percent of dead leatherback sea turtles have ingested plastic.
The following are just some of the many alarming statistics of how harmful plastic bags (or plastic items overall) are detrimental to our ecosystems and environment:
- In 2015 almost 730,000 tons of plastic bags, sacks, and wraps were generated in the U.S., but more than 87 percent of those items are never recycled, ending up in landfills and oceans, according to a previous source.
- 73% of beach litter is worldwide plastic, according to Global Citizen.
- Ingestion of plastic kills about one million marine birds and 100,000 marine animals each year. Scientists believe that if this rate of plastic pollution continues, 99 percent of the world’s seabird species will be eating plastic by 2050, according to the previous source.
Here Come The Bans
In 2002, Bangladesh was the first country to implement a plastic bag ban after it was found that thin plastic bags clogged drainage systems during floods, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme. Other countries would follow suit through bans or fees. By 2018, 127 out of 192 countries reviewed have established some form of national legislation to address the problem of these harmful bags, the source continues.
In an article posted by Statista in July 2021, 77 countries in the world have passed a full or partial ban on plastic bags. A majority of the 32 countries that charge fees to limit the usage of these bags are located in Europe.
Developing countries are more likely to ban certain types of plastic bags to reduce the mismanagement of plastic waste. Countries like France, Austria, Italy, and Germany banned certain types of thin plastic bags and now require users to replace them with compostable bags, the source continues.
Only some places have banned all non-compostable carrier bags. Many countries exempted sturdier, easier-to-reuse plastic bags from their bans and are requiring users to pay a fee for those bags, the source continues.
China already banned thin plastic bags in 2008, and in 2020, they announced their plan to combat plastic bag usage further, the source continues. The plan was to ban all non-compostable bags in major cities by the end of 2020 and extend the ban to the entire country by 2022, the source continues.
The U.S. and Australia still lack country-wide bans or fees on these harmful bags, despite some states having implemented those laws, the source continues.
In Palm Springs, a new ban went into effect on January 1, 2021, stating that polystyrene, plastic straws, and plastic bags for takeout places are now forbidden, according to Desert Sun. The new ban was approved by the Palm Springs City Council this past July. Used to promote reusable utensils, the new ban forbids the sale and use of polystyrene food containers such as foam, plastic straws, and stirrers, single-use carrier bags for takeout orders, and requires reusable food ware be used for on-site dining, the source continues.
Yes, They are Cheap. But Their Environmental Costs Surpasses Any Economic Benefit.
People should care more about plastic bag pollution, right? Well, according to The Guardian, a recent study of over 10,000 participants showed that shoppers in the UK are more concerned about saving pennies than saving the planet.
The research was conducted by Nottingham University business school’s N/LAB analytics center of excellence, the source continues. Results showed that younger male and less frugal shoppers bought the plastic bags, whose environmental concerns didn’t affect their decision to buy them or not, the source continues.
Interestingly enough, the findings emerged during the festivities when consumption of these carrier bags peaked yearly. Despite all England retailers charging 10 pence per bag, the source continues. The participants’ questionnaire explored their circumstances, traits, and environmental opinions. The responses were then linked to the participants’ purchasing data and an algorithm was used to determine the factors that predicted bag-buying behavior, the source continues.
Are There Other Environmentally-Friendly Solutions Besides Banning Plastic Bags?
Ever heard of the saying “reduce, reuse, and recycle?” The simplest solution would be to limit the number of disposable bags you use, according to ABC News. The fewer bags you use, the less you throw away, and the fewer chances of causing plastic bag pollution and harming the environment.
Reuse the bag as many times as you can and recycle it when it can no longer be used!
Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to educate people on the harmful effects of plastic bags on the environment. Non-environmentalists should know why plastic bag bans were even considered in the first place and why some states are making the switch to reusable bags/utensils. From experience, I know that people are not willing to do something unless they know the reason behind it.