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Published On: Thu, Jul 10th, 2014

Can we do without plastic bags?

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Plastic is a miracle product. Like glass, plastic is waterproof, but is flexible and much lighter than glass. Plastic bags have come to play a crucial role in modern life. They have become such a ubiquitous way of life that it seems as if we simply cannot do without them.

Plastic bags are very popular with both retailers as well as consumers because they are cheap, strong, lightweight, functional, as well as a hygienic means of carrying food as well as other goods. Even though they are one of the modern conveniences that we seem to be unable to do without, most of us are unaware of the repercussions that are occurring, and are likely to occur in the nearest future.

Billions of single-use plastic bags are given out free of charge everyday across the world, and they are one of the most common garbage items, littering the environment like the pure water sachets. Once they are used, most bags go into landfill, or rubbish dumps.

Most start out as litter on the streets, parks, beaches and sidewalks. Storm water runoff flushes them through storm drains or directly to creeks, streams and rivers that lead to the ocean. And, if they are burned, they infuse the air with toxic fumes.

One of the worst environmental effects is that plastic bags are not biodegradable. The decomposition takes between 400 and 1000 years or more to break down into ever smaller particles that continue to pollute the soil and water.

Over a 100,000 animals, are killed every year due to these bags. Many animals ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for food and therefore, die. And worse, the ingested plastic bag remains intact even after the death and decomposition of the animal. Thus, it lies around in the landscape where another victim may ingest it.

This has resulted to the recent growing conscience concerning the frivolous abuse of single-use plastic grocery bags that has finally taken hold of the world today. This includes all the transparent plastic bags currently used to package sugar and rice in retail outlets, or vegetables in kiosks and to a designer store. They are responsible for causing environmental pollution, killing wildlife, and using up the precious resources of the earth.

Concerns over this non-biodegradable were raised in the UNEP Year Book 2014 and Valuing Plastic. The authors explain that plastic bags washed down rivers and oceans are causing losses in excess of US$75 billion globally each year.

The report says the use of micro-plastics directly in consumer products, such as micro-beads in toothpaste; gels and facial cleansers are dangerous. These micro-plastics tend not to be filtered out during sewage treatment, but are released directly into rivers, lakes and the ocean.

Trillions of plastic bags are used every year, when one considers the huge economies and populations of India, China, Europe, Africa, and other parts of the world, the numbers can be staggering. The problem is further exacerbated by the developed countries shipping off their plastic waste to developing countries. And just one percent is recycled annually.

Today, researchers have warned that poorly disposed plastics, which are now known as silent killers, are slowly poisoning the world’s food chain. The reports show that apart from killing fish and other marine life, some of the waste ends up on dinner tables as poisonous food.

The report is to conscientize governments to ban manufacture and sale of plastic bags less than 30 micron, as UNEP is now calling for reduced use of plastics across the world.

For a clean and green environment, it is advised that we try to use alternatives to plastic whenever and wherever possible. Cut down on your use of plastic, and do your bit to save our planet.

While governments may be working out ways to lessen the impact of plastic bags on the environment, however, each of us should shoulder some of the responsibility for this problem, which ultimately harms us.


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