Each year, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. This averages to about 1 million bags per minute.
When consumers mindlessly accept plastic bags, use them for only a minute, then toss them away without a thought…this poses a tremendous environmental problem!
So what is the problem with all this plastic bag consumption?
The Problem with Plastic Bags:
Energy Consumption — The energy needed for plastic bag production requires petroleum and natural gas, both nonrenewable resources that contribute to global warming. It is estimated that 8% of the world’s oil consumption is used for plastics.
Foreign Oil Dependency — The United States consumes more than 380 billion petroleum-based plastic bags annually, requiring millions of barrels of foreign oil.
Water Contamination — More than 46,000 pieces of plastic contaminate every square mile of our oceans. And the large amount of plastics dumped into our water and soil results in the contamination of precious water sources.
Animal Death — More than 1 million birds and 100,000 marine animals die each year from plastic entanglement. Large land animals like cows and camels also die from ingesting plastic bags. The bags coat their stomachs and they die of starvation because food can no longer be absorbed and digested.
Landfill Waste — Only about 2% of plastic bags are recycled in the United States, while the majority end up in landfills. Plastic is the fastest-growing portion of our waste stream and now makes up the second-largest category by volume, next to paper, of trash going into our landfills.
Clogged Waterways — Plastic bags clog drains and waterways, threatening urban environments and creating severe safety hazards. Drainage systems blocked by plastic bags have been identified as a major cause of flooding in countries like India and Bangladesh during monsoon season. Not only do floods destroy homes, derail trains, delay traffic, and cause mudslides, but they also create breeding grounds for water born diseases, malaria, and dengue fever.
Occupational Health Hazards — The majority of plastics recycled are shipped off to developing countries (like China and India) with cheap labor and lax environmental laws. Plastics must be melted down to be recycled – a process that emits potentially harmful fumes. And certain plastic additives, such as flame-retardants, can be toxic when heated. Workers (many of which make the equivalent of $1.5-$2 per day) inhale these toxic gases, putting themselves at risk of developing lung diseases or cancer.
Toxic Pollution — The toxic chemicals emitted during the manufacturing, recycling, and decomposition of plastic bags contaminate our air, water, and soil, and eventually end up in the food we eat.
Soil Degradation — Apart from toxic seepage from landfills, plastic waste impedes the flow of ground water and obstructs the movement of roots. This affects the soils organic composition and soil fertility deteriorates.
Costly Production/Recycling — It costs $4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of bags, which is then only worth $32 on the market.
Landscape Litter — It takes centuries for plastic bags to disintegrate. And with our love of packaged goods and throw-away culture, we turn otherwise beautiful locations into ugly, unhygienic dumping grounds.
Plastic Bag Articles:
ReusableBags.com – The Real Cost of Free Plastic Bags
Treehugger.com – Paper Bags or Plastic Bags? Everything You Need to Know
Salon.com – Plastic Bags Are Killing Us
EcologyCenter.org – Recycling?…and Zero Waste Alternatives
Bag The Bags Austin – What’s the Problem with Plastic Bags?
Alternet.org – The Great Plastic Bag Plague
The New York Times – Taking Aim at All Those Plastic Bags
Mindfully.org – Plastic
ReusableBags.com – Trends from Around the World
India Plastic Bag Articles:
The Ecologist – India: Bags of Rubbish
Indian Express – Through Thick, Not Thin, Say Ragpickers
Hindustan Times – Railways Want all Plastic Banned
Atanu Dey on India’s Development – Banning Plastic Bags
Green Life Style Magazine – Plastic as a Source of Environmental Pollution: What is the Solution?
Gunaseelan – Plastic Recycling in India
Dance With Shadows – The Dangers of Plastic Pollution: Plastic at Your Peril
All-About-India.com – Environmental Issues in India