You won’t be hard pressed to find plastic bags lying on streets and in gutters around the city because to put it simply, they are everywhere.
We seem to have created an entire plastic economy off of these bags because they are easy to mass produce and they are cheap. In many rural areas everything is peddled in bags because products are usually not sold whole. Rice, sugar and flour are poured into these bags, which are then packed inside other plastic bags and if you are lucky there might be some newspaper in the middle.
Plastic bags have acquired a terrible reputation despite their almost universal use and seemingly limitless utility. They don’t just carry whatever you bought them in, they carry whatever you can fit inside them. But they have some disastrous consequences with regard to the environment. The production and disposal of plastic bags causes almost every kind of pollution imaginable and with up to 1 trillion of these bags being produced every year, the large scale effects are catastrophic.
Water and air pollution in the factory process, goes right back to water and soil pollution in the discarding of the bags. Plastic bags, because they are not quite natural–they are created from a man-made polymer derived from petroleum–can reportedly take up to 1000 years to break down. So potentially the first ever plastic bags that were made in the 1960s might be still lying around somewhere.
So what’s the alternative? Paper bags or tote bags? They carry some shortcomings of their own. Paper bags are made from wood pulp and this could possibly contribute to massive deforestation to meet the needs of consumers everywhere not to mention they are considerably more expensive to produce. Paper bags also pollute the environment during their manufacture, even more so than with plastic bags. “Paper manufacturing is a highly energy-intensive process,” states a report in the Energy and Environmental Profile of the U.S. Pulp and Paper Industry. Paper production emits air pollution, specifically 70 percent more pollution than the production of plastic bags.
Of tote bags, the situation is also rather bleak. ‘Cotton tote bags exhibited the highest and most severe global-warming potential by far since they require more resources to produce and distribute,’ as is stated in The Atlantic. Compared to plastic bags, tote bags are terrible for the environment.
Where we fail with plastic bags is disposal and recycling. Instead of dumping bags on the side of the road which will then end up choking ocean life, we need to find a better way to discard them and come up with a better solution than banning a product with zero substitutes.
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