Over 380 billion plastic bags are used in the U.S. every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
But what happens to them when they get thrown away? While we might think that throwing them in the trash is the end of the story; it’s actually just the beginning of the problems plastic bags cause, on a global scale.
Here’s why we need to stop producing and stop using plastic bags.
Why are plastic bags harmful?
Most plastic bags end up in the trash, from where they travel to landfills. Others become litter on land or end up in the ocean, harming animals and humans alike. Plastic is also made with harmful chemicals that can be damaging to our health. They do not biodegrade and simply breakdown into tiny, harmful pieces, called micro-plastics.
Should plastic bags be banned? There’s no doubt about it!
12 Reasons for Banning Plastic Bags:
- Plastic Bags Are Made With Non-Renewable Energy
- Plastic Bags Use Up Lots Of Energy
- Plastic Bags End Up In The Ocean
- Beach Plastic Litter Is On The Rise
- Plastic Bags Kill Millions Of Animals Every Year
- Plastic Takes A Long Time To Disintegrate
- Plastic Is Harming The Ocean’s Coral
- Plastic Bags Contain Toxins
- We Are Already Consuming Plastic
- Plastic Bags Block Storm Drains
- Plastic Bags Aren’t Being Recycled
- Plastic Bag Waste Collection Is Costly
Let’s look at each of these compelling reasons in more detail:
1. Plastic Bags Are Made With Non-Renewable Energy
Most plastic bags in society are made of a material called polyethylene, which is manufactured from natural gas and crude oil refining.
These are both non-renewable fossil fuel based resources, as Green Tumble reports.
By producing them in order to make plastic bags, we’re encouraging more greenhouse gases that contribute to the global warming crisis in which we find ourselves.
Roughly eight percent of the world’s total oil production is used to produce and manufacture plastic.
By 2050, this percentage will rise to 20 percent, according to National Geographic, if we don’t limit our plastic consumption.
By no longer using plastic bags, we can hopefully put an end to plastic bag production, which will help to slow down global warming.
We should also move away from plastic packaging and switch to zero-waste products. Products like plastic-free shampoos, refillable body washes, eco-friendly soap bars, and zero-waste toothpaste tablets, mouthwashes and plastic-free toothbrushes are a great start because these are items we use often and replace regularly. Using plastic-free alternatives for the items we use the most has the most impact, especially when we buy from brands like Serious Soaps in the UK, that actively remove plastic from the environment too.
When you’re looking for eco-friendly personal product alternatives and plastic-free home products, choose items that are made out of sustainable materials like wood, bamboo, stainless steel and silicone.
2. Plastic Bags Use Up Lots Of Energy
To make plastic, first, a plastic resin needs to be produced.
This is made from the process of heating up gases and oils. Many different items that we use on a daily basis that contain plastic have to undergo this process, and it uses a lot of energy.
The amount of energy that is required to produce just nine plastic bags could drive a car for a kilometer, as Conserve Energy Future reports.
If you consider that nearly two million plastic bags are used every minute in the world, as Earth Day reports, that’s a phenomenal amount of energy going to waste.
And, really, what’s the point, when the average lifespan of a plastic bag is just 12 minutes, as Biological Diversity reports.
3. Plastic Bags End Up In The Ocean
Once plastic bags are thrown away, they enter the environment in various ways.
Some wind up in a landfill where they contribute to the high amount of garbage that’s polluting the earth.
Other plastic bags get carried to the oceans by wind or because people have littered on the beach.
The plastic bags that end up in the ocean are contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of plastic that’s roughly 80,000 tonnes in weight, the equivalent of 500 Jumbo Jets, as The Ocean Cleanup states.
4. Beach Plastic Litter Is On The Rise
It’s not just ocean litter that’s a problem.
Approximately 73 percent of beach litter is made up of plastic that includes bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, cigarette filters, and grocery bags, as National Geographic reports.
This litter is harming the environment.
A 2015 study in Environmental Science & Technology found that marshland sediments that were covered by plastic bags contained lower levels of oxygen and fewer organisms than sediments that didn’t have bags obstructing their light and oxygen intake.
If we don’t ban plastic bags, this problem will just get worse because plastic production is on the rise.
Worldwide, plastic production has increased from 2.3 million tons in the 1950s to 448 million tons in 2015, National Geographic reports.
5. Plastic Bags Kill Millions Of Animals Every Year
Roughly 1 million marine animals die every year from plastic that’s in the sea, as No Plastic Oceans reports.
This can happen from animals ingesting plastic or getting tangled in it. Animals such as birds sometimes mistake bits of plastic for food.
An example is sea turtles.
Eco Watch reports that more than 370 autopsies of leatherback sea turtles have found that one in three sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs, and this is most often a plastic bag.
It’s a scary thing to consider, but by the year 2050 every single seabird species on earth will be eating plastic, National Geographic reports.
6. Plastic Takes A Long Time To Disintegrate
One of the biggest concerns with plastic bags is that plastic doesn’t disintegrate easily.
In fact, it can take 500 years or more for plastic to start to break down, and it will only completely disintegrate within 1,000 years.
In addition, plastic bags don’t completely break down because they are not biodegradable.
They photo-degrade. What this means is that they will break down into smaller pieces, and these can still contaminate the environment, posing dangers to animals and humans alike.
This can translate into devastating consequences because even when animals have consumed plastic and they die from being unable to digest it, their bodies decay but the plastic survives, and can go on to be consumed by other animals, starting the toxic cycle all over again.
7. Plastic Is Harming The Ocean’s Coral
The ocean’s coral reefs are amazing structures that provide housing for animals and protect the shorelines from surge water, but plastic is killing them.
Corals become ill with disease after being exposed to plastic.
A study published in Science journal found that when coral is covered in plastic, such as if a plastic bag has become stuck to its sharp edges, it’s got a 20 times greater chance of becoming diseased.
Plastic harms coral by depriving it of light and causing toxin release, which enables pathogens to invade it, causing disease.
We might not realize how much we depend on coral, but it’s vital to our existence. Coral serves as natural barriers against hurricanes and tsunamis, as Coral reports.
In addition, coral reefs provide compounds that are already being used in medicine to treat illnesses such as cancer.
8. Plastic Bags Contain Toxins
Plastic contains pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyl that disrupt human hormones and these make their way up the food chain.
After fish has consumed bits of plastic containing these toxins, the chemicals find their way through the food chain until they reach humans who consume the fish.
In addition, chemicals that are found in plastic can alter the behavior of marine animals.
Research published in Biology Letters found that when periwinkles are confronted by crabs, their natural predators, they sense the crab’s chemicals in the water and hide in their shells, but plastic prevents them from doing this.
Researchers discovered that when the periwinkles were placed in water that had previously had plastic pellets in it, they couldn’t respond to the chemical cues in a normal way.
So, toxins in plastic are disrupting the normal functioning of marine animals.
9. We Are Already Consuming Plastic
Although we might not think that microplastics from plastic bags and other plastic items will end up in our bodies, the truth is that it’s already happening.
In a study, UK researchers placed petri dishes with sticky surfaces on them next to people’s dinner plates in their homes.
Within 20 minutes, the petri dishes had an average of 14 microplastics on them, a study in Environmental Pollution found (via Science Direct).
Avoid plastic bags, and all the plastic in your kitchen – try metal, silicone, wooden and bamboo alternatives instead.
10. Plastic Bags Block Storm Drains
Because of how easily they are carried by the wind, plastic bags can end up clogging sewers and stormwater drains.
This is already happening in countries such as India and Bangladesh, where plastic bags cause flooding in this way.
In the U.S., cities such as San Jose in California have also experienced such problems.
In 2007, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board stated that three waterways in San Jose were so littered with trash that they were said to be in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
It’s clear to see that plastic bags can be dangerous to our wellbeing, especially during natural disasters.
11. Plastic Bags Aren’t Being Recycled
While there are many great products made from recycled plastic and recycling plastic bags can help to prevent the problems associated with plastic, the sad truth is that only one percent of the plastic bags that are manufactured get recycled, as Waste Management reports.
This isn’t just because of carelessness on the part of the consumer, many recycling facilities don’t possess the capacity to recycle plastic bags because they contain high-density polyethylene.
In addition, there are over 50 different types of plastic, which makes it difficult to process and sort them out when compared to other recyclable items, as Mitte reports.
If you currently have plastic bags in your home, the best thing you can do is stop buying plastic bags and re-use the ones you have for as long as possible.
12. Plastic Bag Waste Collection Is Costly
What happens to the plastic bags that end up in landfills or become beach litter?
Someone has to deal with them, but this cleaning task is really expensive.
The overall cost of cleaning up plastic bags is a whopping 17 cents for every single bag, 1 Bag At A Time reports, and taxpayers are the ones who have to shell out money for it.
Plastic cleanup costs individual taxpayers up to $88 every year, as Bag Monster states. If you consider how one plastic bag costs a few cents, then this amount really hits home.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should we ban plastic bags?
Single use plastic bags and other plastics account for approximately 73 percent of beach litter. Plastic bags are polluting coastlines, waterways and oceans where they damage animals and ecosystems. They take centuries to break down. Banning single use plastic bags will go a long way to stopping the source of plastic pollution. For more info, check out this article on why we should ban plastic bags.
Are plastic bags recyclable?
Yes. However, plastic recycling is complex and not all plastic that is recycled can be re-used. Plastic recycling is also not as prevalent as it seems, with less than 2% of all plastics being recycled at all. This means that more and more new plastics are produced to keep up with demand. For more info, check out this article on why plastic bags should be banned.
How long does it take for plastic to breakdown?
Different types of plastic break down at different rates, however, the most common types of plastic we use take hundreds of years to break down. For more info, check out this article on why we should ban plastic bags.
Should plastic bags be banned?
As we have seen, plastic bags cause many problems for the earth, such as by killing animals and harming our environment.
In addition, we’re ingesting micro-plastics thanks in part to plastic bags that never disintegrate and find their way up the food chain.
Just to add insult to injury, we’re wasting lots of money to use plastic bags. All of these factors make the answer to the question of banning plastic bags a resounding yes.