Essay on plastic bags and environmental problems

What You Can Do to Reduce Use of Plastic Shopping Bags
Contents:
  1. The Plastic Bag Problem
  2. The energy intensive plastic bag production
  3. Environmental Impact. Effects, Dangers of Plastic Bags
  4. Should We Ban Plastic Bags?
  5. Banning Straws and Bags Won’t Solve our Plastic Problem | World Resources Institute

Note that this does not mean plastic bags have no environmental costs but when determining the environmental costs and benefits of different bags we must honestly present the science. Science is simply not on the side of those who claim that cotton, paper and biodegradable bags are more environmentally friendly than plastic bags.

The Plastic Bag Problem

As the argument of the plastic bag critic goes, humans have become dependent on plastic for bags, packaging and products, thus reducing our use of plastic bags is an easy target to begin overcoming our addiction to plastic. This essay will now highlight the major evidence for each of these alleged problems of plastic bags.


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Plastic is a petroleum product, by making plastic bags we accelerate the depletion of our valuable fossil fuels like oil and pump more carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Because plastic bags are lightweight, they are easily carried by wind and water. Resultantly, plastic bags litter streets and natural areas, and often clog up drainage systems and therefore contribute to flooding.

In in Australia, million garbage bags ended up as litter Wilks , p.

The energy intensive plastic bag production

Over the last several decades, plastic waste has been dumped into the sea and, due to the Pacific currents, this plastic waste has swirled into a giant mass Werthmann , p. Researchers estimate that it could take centuries for all this plastic to break up Werthmann , p. Moreover, if marine animals ingest this plastic then plastic may end up in the food chain and be ingested by humans Werthmann , p.

A lot of plastic waste is blown or washed into the sea where it remains for a long time, breaks down into smaller bits and threatens sea creatures who ingest it and then choke or suffer ill health.


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According to Clean-up Australia, roughly 1 million sea-birds and , sea turtles die every year because they either mistake plastic bags for food or get strangled in them Wilks , p. Birds are also at risk from plastic invading their ecosystem and causing them ill health. Most importantly, for the arguments against plastic bags, is the fact that plastic is not biodegradable and is nearly impossible to get rid of once produced, plastic always remains plastic Werthmann , p.

According to the Natural Environment, it takes at least years for a plastic bag to biodegrade New After plastic bags are dumped into landfills it takes hundreds of years to decompose and breakdown Roach Moreover, as plastic bags decompose, tiny toxics seep into soils, lakes, rivers and the oceans Roach Plastic bags are being dumped in landfills and left there to rot, damage the environment and harm any bird that digests it.

All our landfills may eventually fill up if we keep dumping all our rubbish, and especially plastic rubbish, into them. As this essay will now explain, plastic bags are not bad for the environment, in fact, plastic bags are the most environmentally friendly option.

All we need to do is use plastic bags, re-use them as much as possible and then recycle them. Biodegradable plastic bags do not have a magic ingredient that makes them self-destruct and break up into tiny pieces made of simple molecules that bugs and fungi can happily munch up Pearce The European Plastics Recyclers Association warned that biodegradable plastic bags have the potential to do more harm than good for the environment Pearce Biodegradable bags are actually oxo-degradable plastics, that is, plastics made to degrade in the presence of oxygen and sunlight Pearce Biodegradable plastic bags do not degrade away to nothing.

The supermarket Tesco believe that biodegradable plastic bags decompose within 18 months without any negative impact on the environment Pearce However, whether biodegradable plastic bags decompose with no harm to the environment depends mostly on where biodegradable plastic bags end up Pearce If these bags get buried in a landfill they may not degrade at all because there is no light or oxygen Pearce Research commissioned by the Biodegradable Products Institute found that breakdown is also dependent on temperature and humidity, cold weather slows down decomposition and high humidity virtually stops the process Pearce Moreover, most manufacturers of biodegradable plastic bags claim they only put tiny amounts of metals into biodegradable plastic bags but the Biodegradable Products Institute discovered that one brand contained extremely high levels of lead and cobalt meaning the plastic leftovers may be highly toxic Pearce Research that was left unpublished by the government for a number of years suggests that plastic bags may not be an eco-villain but actually an unsung hero Hickman A report by the Environment Agency discovered that plastic bags HDPE bags are actually greener than supposedly low impact alternatives like paper bags or cotton bags Hickman The Environment Agency report by Edwards and Fry , p.

Edwards and Fry , p. Banning plastic bags will increase energy use because plastic bags are the most energy efficient form of grocery bag Myers Plastic bags are cheap because relatively small amounts of raw materials and energy are required to produce them Agresti Plastic bags are highly energy and water efficient as well as sanitary Logomasini Using a cotton bag this many times obviously necessitates washing it to remove bacteria, dirt and germs, emitting even more carbon emissions and using up water, and that is assuming the cotton bag does not break after being used multiple times.

Most cotton bags come from China and some have been found to contain lead which can seep into groundwater after disposal and cause long-term health problems Grynbaum The problem with one person buying multiple amounts of cotton bags is that it becomes less likely that the average cotton bag will be re-used enough times to make them less damaging to the planet as plastic bags. Additionally, White notes that the amount of plastic in the ocean has not been increasing since the s. More importantly, if we focus on the damage that plastic bags do to the ocean rather than the damage that other debris does then we are making a terrible mistake.

Plastic Pollution

This makes plastic bags a blessing in disguise because when plastics do get dumped in the ocean we can identify and get to them more easily than other materials in order to clean them up. Many attempts to actually quantify those marine impacts are simply false or misleading Myers For example, a Washington state city council was told that the ecological impacts of plastic bags include over 1 million sea-birds and , marine mammals killed by either plastic ingestions or entanglement Myers In fact, this claim about harm to marine mammals and sea-birds has absolutely nothing to do with plastic bags Myers Let us consider what plastics are causing damage to marine wildlife.

If we argue that marine wildlife is harmed by the toxicity of plastics breaking down in our oceans then we cannot assume that plastic bags are solely to blame. Any type of similar plastic product would also cause the same release of toxins. For example, plastic toys, computers or mobile phones. During the production of plastic bags the petroleum must be extracted, refined, and shaped. Each of these processes requires a lot of energy and this energy comes from burning fossil fuels, like oil [2].

The root of this issue is the huge amount of oil that is used in the production process.

Environmental Impact. Effects, Dangers of Plastic Bags

Oil is one of the most commonly used fossil fuels on earth and is one of, if not the biggest, contributors to climate change. When oil is burned or produced it creates greenhouse gases. In coastal regions one of biggest issues is sea level rise caused by melting ice and glaciers. Some island nations, such as the Maldives, will be fully submerged with only a 40 inches rise in sea level. If climate change continues these consequences will become stronger and more prevalent affecting plants, animals, and humans all around the world. One biome that has become increasingly affected by plastic waste is the ocean.

Nearly 13 million tonnes of plastic is washed into the ocean every year. Some plastics release chemicals in the water leading to cancer and other health issues , but the most prevalent issue is the consumption of plastic by animals. Fish, turtles, and ocean birds are the largest groups affected by plastic debris. Nearly million marine animals die each year directly from the consumption of plastic waste.

These animals often eat plastic, which their bodies cannot digest. This blocks their digestive tract, leading to death [4]. Even for us this is a huge issue because we eat a lot of fish and if fish have consumed plastic we end up eating the plastic inside the fish. Turtles have been especially affected by plastic bags in the ocean.

Turtles have been known to confuse plastic bags for jellyfish one of their common food sources and eat them unknowingly. Oceans are a multinational resource that many people around the world rely on for their survival. When plastic waste is released into the ocean currents often carry it very far from its original source polluting different regions of the world.

I guess nobody will live long enough to find out! This means not one plastic bag has ever naturally biodegraded. Around , plastic bags are collected during Clean Up Australia Day each year.

Should We Ban Plastic Bags?

Clean Up Australia Day is a nationwide initiative to get as many members of the public to get out and pick up litter from their local areas. Unfortunately, each year in Australia approximately 50 million plastic bags end up as litter. Fortunately, some governments around the world are taking the initiative to deal with the environmental impact of plastic bags by either banning plastic bags or discouraging their usage.

Under current city law, large supermarkets and chain drugstores, such as Safeway and Walgreens, only may provide three kinds of bags to customers at the checkout stand: recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags and reusable bags. In the new law, Mirkarimi crafted a few exemptions, which include using plastic bags for produce or for garments. He is contemplating a companion piece to his legislation that would impose a cent charge for paper bags.

Mirkarimi estimates that broadening the law would remove tens of millions more bags from the environment. If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the UK Essays website then please:.

Banning Straws and Bags Won’t Solve our Plastic Problem | World Resources Institute

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