They became commonplace in the early 1980s, and today between 500 billion to 1 trillion are used annually. It is estimated that over one billion plastic bags are distributed free to consumers each day, and that in the United States alone over 100 billion are used every year. Plastic bags are an increasing problem, as described by this presentation. Plastic bags, plastic bottles, and other synthetic materials have contributed to the world’s biggest garbage dump, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in the Pacific Ocean.
The High Cost of Plastic Bags
It is becoming increasingly obvious that plastic bags are an eyesore; China’s streets are white with them, and they’ve earned the title “white pollution”. South Africa bitterly dubs them the national flower due to their prevalence. Aesthetic reasons alone offer an incentive to clean up plastic bags. In the United States an estimated 8 billion pounds of plastic sacks is found in the annual waste. In 2002 in Australia, the countryside was littered with 50-80 million plastic bags. And contrary to popular belief, they are not free. The estimated annual cost to retailers in the U.S. is $4 billion, which the consumer ultimately pays for through higher product prices. They are made with petroleum, a non-renewable natural resource that is becoming increasingly in short supply and is often obtained from foreign countries, strengthening our dependence on these sometimes hostile nations. They may be convenient, but they are neither cheap nor a good investment economically or ecologically.
Why Plastic Bags Are A Danger
Convenience for consumers translates into ecological hell for many of Earth’s inhabitants. Plastic bags create massive amounts of pollution and they kill wildlife.Every year over 1 million marine mammals, reptiles, and birds succumb to death by plastic bags. Animals can become entangled in them, which may result in loss of limb or death, and routinely ingest them. Many sea turtles (which are listed as threatened or endangered, depending on the species) eat a diet rich in jellyfish. Plastic bags look amazingly similar to jellyfish when floating in ocean currents, enticing animals to eat them, where they become lodged in their digestive tract, often leading to a slow painful death. A study found that plastic bags were the number one material found in the digestive tracts of 400 necropsied leatherback turtles, appearing in over one-third of the animals.
Although plastic bags take up to one thousand years to decompose, through time they slowly disintegrate, soaking up toxic chemicals such as PCBs and DDE like sponges from the surrounding ocean water. As these plastics are ingested, the animals not only are eating gut-blockers but are also getting high doses of deadly synthetic compounds.
Solving the Plastic Bag Problem
Ireland has instituted a “PlasTax”, adding a cost of twenty cents per bag; since March of 2002, the use of plastic bags has dropped by over ninety percent. The Australian government instituted a voluntary program for retailers to reduce the use of plastic bags, and over ninety percent of retailers have signed up. Taiwan law requires businesses to charge customers for plastic bags and utensils; as such, plastic product use has dropped by 69%. Many other countries and cities are being proactive in solving this overwhelming problem. Every time a plastic bag is avoided, the problem is improved. Reusable shopping bags are a viable solution to this serious problem. If everyone does their part, plastics in the environment could be decreased over time