Reusable bags are great v.s. disposable plastic bags any day if only solely for the reason that they are so much better looking than those ugly flimsy disposable bags
But other than that shallow reason, there are some very important reasons why single use plastic bags need to become an exception instead of the rule as they are today
History of the disposable plastic bag
Plastic bags were invented in 1950, almost 60 years ago. That’s basically one generation. What did our grandparents use then, we wonder? Surely even back then they needed to buy things and bring them home? Back then though, when people wanted to buy something they either carried them in their hands, or they had shopping baskets or wrapped their shoppings in pieces of cloth. Yes, it required some mindfulness – as in “today I’m going grocery shopping, better grab that basket”, but it meant a whole lot less rubbish and packaging.
Nowadays we take plastic bags without a second thought. We expect them to be available. Even to carry something that would fit in a purse or pocket already on hand, we still want to put that single product (already packaged in its own layers of plastic) into that tiny plastic bag that will be thrown away the instant we get home.
What is the real cost of this plastic bag addiction? It’s something we think of as “free” and something we think shops and restaurants should provide – but is it really “Free”? Or are we just deluding ourselves for the sake of convenience?
The cost of making a plastic bag.
The world consumes 500 billion to 1 trillion disposable plastic bags every year. It takes about 60 – 120 million barrels of oil to make those plastic bags (not to mention transporting those bags from the manufacturing plant to the shops). We’re already facing a global oil shortage, and removing that oil from the Earth extracts a heavy price from the environment (and consequently our ability to live comfortably on this planet). Imagine how much longer we could enjoy this plalnet simply by using less disposable items (that includes disposable bags and bottles).
And disposable plastic bags aren’t really free. They cost stores real money, which is worked into products sold by the supermarket. Retailers in the USA collectively spent USD4 billion a year on disposable plastic bags alone!!! You as the consumer do actually pay to purchase them, it’s just another hidden cost.
The cost of disposing of that disposable plastic bag.
Most disposable plastic bagsare thrown away after a single or two time use (i.e. once to take your shopping home and once to collect rubbish before throwing).
That’s on average a 10 – 15 minute actual carrying time (seeing as Malaysians use cars, so we’re talking about carrying from the shop to our car and then car to our home) for something that’s going to take an estimate of 500 to 1,000 years (yes you read that right) to decompose in a landfill.
How many plastic bags can the world take? As it is, after 60 odd years of disposable plastic bag use (at accelerated levels in recent years no less), the world is already bursting with rubbish. Soon, the world really will be one big rubbish dump, with a few humans desperately scavenging through landfill after landfill hoping to find something non-toxic enough to live on.
Deadly plastic bags
Plastic bags are a huge killer. They look innocuous and you’d think humans would declare plastic bags their best friends at their rate of use, but plastic bags are responsible for the deaths of :
- 10,000 sea turtle and other marine animal deaths every year (sea animals swallow the bags which then expand in their stomachs preventing any nutrition from being absorbed into the stomach. Eventually the animal dies, their bodies decompose and the unharmed & undecomposed plastic bag is released back into the sea to kill another day!)
- Birds and other land animals get entangled in plastic bags, are unable to escape and die of starvation or strangulation
- Discarded bags clog up drains and waterways, which leads to flooding and pools of water in which bacteria and mosquitos will happily breed.
Even after plastic bags do decompose, they don’t simply disappear into nothing. They break down into small toxic particles, that are believed to leach into the soil and interfere with moisture distribution.
But how many plastic bags do we really use ?
Think about your personal habits with shopping. Do you buy lunch to takeaway? In most likelihood you will be given a polystyrene box in a small red plastic bag that barely can contain the polystyrene box. Go grocery shopping? We rarely fill up those disposable plastic bags because they are so flimsy, so a single person might take 5 or 6 of those a week. Buy a pair of shoes, go to the pharmacy? Pick up the latest magazine or book at the bookshop? Bag, bag, bag, bag.
Imagine how much waste you personally can reduce by just carrying a small lightweight reusable bag around with you.
Too much to say in one post… future related topics :
- Cheap Reusable shopping bags – greenwashing ?
- Is Paper really better than Plastic?
- Countries that have banned disposable plastic bags and why Malaysia should follow suit