The Plastic Bag Problem

Those of us who live in the developed parts of the world are so fortunate. We have the convenience of driving to a local store, buying to our hearts desire and then taking our new found fortunes home in convenient single use retail plastic bags. But our fortune is also a bane. In this article we will discuss how the convenience of plastic bags is hammering our environment, alternative we can implement and what governments will do with it.

There are some positive aspects to using plastic bags. Convenience is one big factor. They are convenient for the customer as well as the business owner. The customer can shop and then carry their purchases home in easy to handle and dispose of poly bags. The business owner will find the plastic bag is probably the most cost effective advertising available. These bags can be imprinted with the brand, logo, address, phone number and just about anything else to make the business stand out. Add to that the fact each bag has the possibility of being seen by thousands of eyes while it’s being carried around. And without a doubt the unsolicited endorsement of the business by each and every customer who carries an imprinted bag, is priceless. There is no other marketing medium that offers such widespread impact for such a measly investment.

A serious problem is the disposability of these poly bags. These bags were designed for a single use. Estimates show that each shopper is responsible for disposing of 700 plastic bags a year. Multiply that by a family of four and you have 2800 bags for one standard family. Add the number of people in developed parts of the world and you can see the estimate of 500 million to 1 trillion disposed of plastic bags each year probably tends to the higher number. Sadly these disposed of bags are not simply clogging our landfills. They are also making their way into the worlds’ oceans. Of more than ten million pieces of garbage picked up on ocean beaches in 2009 during International Coastal Cleanup Day, 1,126,774 were plastic bags. Plastic bag debris was second only to cigarette butts/filters (21%) in number and accounted for full 11% of ALL marine debris picked up.

Internationally governments are rising to the call to combat the terrible effects of discarded plastic bags. While it is true most governmental efforts are at the local level some major governmental entities are taking big steps. China, Mexico City and at least 40 countries and municipalities around the world have completely banned plastic bags. Ireland and Toronto have added taxation on plastic bags. Even with these major accomplishments we have not lost our lust for single use bags. We can only hope for the day when all poly based bags will be banned world-wide.

A total ban of plastic based bags would not adversely impact the world. There are two very good alternatives today that are well into production. First is a biodegradable bag that is made of natural fibers and bio-plastics that break down quickly. These bags can still be imprinted, so the businesses do not lose such a good advertising venue. Biodegradable bags are a good choice for those customers who forget to bring the number one alternative; reusable bags.

The second alternative and by far the most environmentally friendly, are to use reusable bags. There is no discarding and therefore no waste and they do not require burning fossil fuels for constant re-manufacture.

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