These days, stepping out with a plastic bag carries as much of a stigma as admitting that you kick kittens for pleasure or actively engage in the torture of insects for fun. Plastic is rapidly becoming the swear word of our green generation, and more and more manufacturers are becoming aware that they are no longer able to rely on this expensive and environmentally-harmful way of packaging goods and promoting their brands.
Despite the huge awareness about the dangers of using plastic bags for groceries and other uses, a study by National Geographic has revealed the following facts about the plastic bag trade, showing:
• To date the only large city to ban plastic bags is San Francisco
• Only Washington DC has elected to tax shoppers that receive plastic bags
• No state has banned plastic bags
• No state has taxed plastic bags.
So it seems that not much changes when it comes to reducing the manufacture and use of the commodity, despite the huge amount of publicity which the use of plastics for bags has generated over recent months.
Why are people so slow to ditch plastic in favour of other materials?
Plastic bags came in to use a quarter of a century ago, and have been immensely popular ever since. Sturdy, cheap to produce and durable, they are the bag of choice for grocery stores and the convenience market. Easy to carry and easy to store, they tend to be more practical than their paper counterparts, regardless of the environmental risks associated with their use.
Why are plastic bags so awful?
Plastic bags have few redeeming features when it comes to the environment. They are not biodegradable, meaning that any which are discarded end up in landfill clogging up the eco system. They block drains, drift in the sea and get in to the stomachs of creatures such as turtles, killing them. The true cost of plastic bags on the environment is staggering. Data released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 on US plastic bag, sack, and wrap consumption shows that somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Of those, millions end up in the litter stream outside of landfills.
A spokesperson for the American Plastics Council has stated that the US is embarking upon a crusade against the use of plastic bags, even if this crusade isn‘t reflected by laws around their use: “We feel it is important to understand that plastic grocery bags are some of the most reused items around the house. Many, many bags are reused as book and lunch bags as kids head off to school, as trash can liners, and to pickup Fido’s droppings off the lawn.”
Once plastic bags are put in to the environment, it takes months to hundreds of years for them to break down. As they decompose, toxic chemicals seep into soils, lakes, rivers, and the oceans. Despite all the evidence against the use of plastic bags, the Society of the Plastics Industry based in Washington DC, states that they are still the right choice for consumers. Compared to paper grocery bags, plastic grocery bags consume forty percent less energy, generate eighty percent less solid waste, produce seventy percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and release up to ninety-four percent fewer waterborne wastes. While a plastic bag costs around one cent to produce, a paper equivalent costs around four.
Regardless of the arguments for and against the use of these items, there is no question but that using a cotton equivalent which can be used again and again will be less harmful to the environment than using plastic bags that are discarded after one use.