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Campaign Against the Plastic Plague Background Info

Plastic bags are everywhere! Everyday, we are handed countless plastic bags: when we go to the grocery store, retail clothing store, book store, restaurants, etc. Yes, sometimes, plastic bags are convenient, as they are water resistant and light and inexpensive compared to paper bags. Most of the time, plastic bags are superfluous and avoidable. It seems as though store clerks are often eager to hand out plastic bags for any and all kind of purchases. Sometimes, a plastic bag is just not necessary for that apple you are about to eat or that soda you are going to drink right away. Here are some questions we should ask ourselves whenever we are handed a plastic bag:

  • Do I need to take as many plastic bags in supermarkets?
  • Do I need a plastic bag for an item purchased that is already well packaged by the manufacturer?
  • Could I bring my own shopping bag when making purchases?

Plastic bags are the cause of major environmental concerns. Statistics show that we are consuming more and more plastics every year. It is estimated that an average individual uses around 130 plastic bags per year. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1974750.stm)

Most of them go straight to our landfill and a very small percentage of plastic bags are actually recycled. A reduction in our use of plastic bags is essential in solving the environmental problems stemming from them.

Here are the reasons why you should limit your consumption of plastic bags:

  1. Plastic bags and packaging account for a major part of our waste in landfills. More importantly, plastic bags are one of the top items of litter on our community beaches, roads, sidewalks, and vegetation along with cigarette butts and Styrofoam. Plastic bags are light and hard to contain. Because of their light weight, plastic bags fly easily in wind, float along readily in the currents of rivers and oceans, get tangled up in trees, fences, poles, and so forth, and block the drainage. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/1849302.stm)
  2. Plastic bags are made from a non-renewable natural resource: petroleum. Consequently, the manufacturing of plastic bags contributes to the diminishing availability of our natural resources and the damage to the environment from the extraction of petroleum. At the same time, plastics are hazardous to produce; the pollution from plastic production is harmful to the environment. Finally, most plastic bags are made of polyethylene - more commonly known as polythene - they are hazardous to manufacture and are said to take up to 1,000 years to decompose on land and 450 years in water. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1974750.stm)
    The fact that plastics are not biodegradable means that the plastic bags in circulation and future production of plastic bags will stay with us for a long time: in our landfills, oceans, streets, and so forth.
  3. Countless plastic bags end up in our ocean and cause harm to our marine wildlife. Many marine animals and birds mistakenly ingest plastic or become entangled and choke in plastic bags that is floating around. For instance, environmentalists have pointed out that turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and invariably swallow them. It is estimated 100,000 marine mammals die each year because of plastic litter in our ocean in the North Pacific. (www.algalita.org)
    Land animals seem to be victims as well. In countries such as India, cows are mistakenly ingesting plastic bags on the streets as they are scavenging for food and end up choking or starving to death, as the plastic cannot be digested.
    (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1974750.stm)
  4. There is virtually no market for recycling plastic bags. Very few recycling centers accept plastic bags because they are of little recyclable value. Although your local supermarkets collect used plastic bags for recycle, very few are actually recycled. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/1329600.stm)
  5. On the other hand, most paper bags are made from recycled paper. There is a profitable market in paper recycling and the paper bags can be used and recycled. In addition, this promotes "Buying Recycled" which is the only way that recycling efforts will ever become successful
  6. There are many cost effective and convenient alternatives to plastic bags. Paper bags hold more than plastic bags. One paper bag has the capacity of as many as three to four plastic bags. The best alternative to using plastic bags is using cloth bags and degradable bags.
  7. Businesses will save on cost in providing plastic bags when consumers use less of them and bring their own bags.
  8. The international crisis, which plastic bags are creating, is indicated by the fact that most nations recognize the problem and are making strong attempts to eliminate the use and productions of plastic bags. Many countries in Europe and Asia are attempting to eradicate plastic bags. Some are banning plastic bags altogether while others are implementing a tax on plastic bags to decrease their use. In Bangladesh, plastic bags have been banned completely since early 2002. They were found to have been the main culprit during the 1988 and 1998 floods that submerged two-thirds of the country. The problem was that discarded bags were choking the drainage system. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1974750.stm)
    In 2001, Bombay council also eliminated the use of plastic bags to prevent them from littering the streets and clogging up the city's sewerage system. As a result, merchants have switched to recycled paper bags and litter in the city has been reduced considerably.
    (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/1329600.stm)
    In Ireland, a tax on plastic bags was introduced. Essentially, each plastic bag handed out costs the consumer an extra 15 cents. After the tax scheme began in March 2002, it is estimated the plastic bags available at stores have been decreased by 90%.

These are great success stories from various countries working out the problem of plastic bags. They have set examples on how a ban or a tax on plastic bags may work. Consequently, other nations such as the United Kingdom are considering implementing similar regulations.

The most effective way of reducing the amount of plastic litter in the environment is to reduce our consumption. As consumers, we should not wait for our governments to tackle the problem of plastic bags. Change ultimately comes from everyone be it from to law restrictions of our government or from our own volition. Moreover, the most important contribution to such a campaign must come from the consumer.
http://www.mindfully.org/Berkeley/Berkeley-Plastics-Task-Force.htm
-Report of the Berkeley Plastics Task Force

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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We only love what we understand. We only understand what we are taught."
-Babia Dioum Senegalese Ecologist

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