In an effort to reduce unnecessary waste, some countries have placed bans on plastic bags. Continue reading to find out which places have taken this action as well as more information about the pollution problem facing our planet today.
Plastic Bag Overload
Let's face it: plastic bags are everywhere these days, and while they may seem like a cheap, easy way to carry our goods, they are wreaking havoc on the planet in a number of ways. According to the Earth Policy Institute, nearly one trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. The problem is that these bags contain polyethylene and cannot biodegrade, which means if they aren't recycled or disposed of properly, they become pollution that we commonly see alongside the road or floating in the water. This equals trouble for not only us and our environment, but animals and other wildlife as well.
Here are some of the risks plastic bags pose:
- Animals - birds, marine life, cattle, and more - often mistake plastic bags for food or nest-building materials, which leads to poisoning, choking, entanglement, and blocked intestines - all of which can result in death.
- Since plastic bags can't biodegrade, they last virtually forever (some estimates say 500+ years). Instead, they break down into smaller pieces (called microplastics) that leach toxicants that pollute the earth and even the human food supply.
- Due to their light weight, plastic bags can easily blow out of trash receptacles or even landfills. They then clog up waterways, damage agricultural land, and provide ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
- Plastic bags are manufactured using petroleum, a nonrenewable resource that can be used for several more important things.
As a result of the growing plastic bag problem, some countries, states, and localities are taking action and putting a halt to plastic bag use completely. Other areas have begun to charge retailers or customers who choose to use plastic bags in an effort to curb their popularity. Let's take a closer look.
The World's Fight Against Plastic Bags
Several areas have plastic bag bans and/or taxes in place, and the following list is not comprehensive. It simply paints an overall picture of the overwhelming global concern that plastic bag use has caused and what is being done in response.
Africa takes the plastic bag problem very seriously; more than 15 countries on the continent have either banned them completely or charge a tax on them. Before the first ban was introduced in 2003, South Africa had actually declared plastic bags their 'national flower' due to their overwhelming presence in trees and bushes. How sad! Here are some of the countries in Africa that have bans or taxes in place:
- South Africa
Because there is a black market for plastic bags and people still use them illegally, concrete statistics about the efficacy of bans and taxes in Africa are hard to nail down. Just after the ban, plastic bag use in South Africa dropped 90%, though illegal use has increased gradually since then.
Prior to the 2008 Olympic Games, China placed a ban on all thin plastic bags and began requiring retailers to charge a tax on thicker bags. The Chinese government has said that this has led to a two-thirds reduction in plastic bag use. Other countries in Asia that have bans or taxes in place include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
Australia as a whole doesn't have a ban on plastic bags; however, several states and territories have begun to put bans in place, including the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Tasmania.
Europe has been very active in its fight against plastic bags. In 1994, Denmark was the first country to begin charging a tax on them. Following the introduction of the tax, usage dropped from around 800 million to approximately 400 million bags per year. Ireland, who began charging customers for plastic bags in 2002, saw a 90% reduction in usage and litter after the tax was put into effect. Recently, the European Union has said that it wants to see an 80% drop in plastic bag use by 2019, which means that all European countries will need to be on board. Other countries that currently have measures in place include:
Sadly, the United States has not yet put a ban on plastic bags into effect. However, Mexico and some Canadian provinces and territories have measures in place. Also, an increasing number of U.S. states and cities have taken matters into their own hands. For example, in 2014, California became the first state to ban plastic bags and charge for paper bags. Other areas that are fighting the use of plastic bags with either bans, taxes, or special recycling programs include:
- District of Columbia
- New York
- Rhode Island
- Puerto Rico
Certain areas in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia have taken measures to reduce plastic bag use, such as using only biodegradable bags and implementing recycling programs. Again, statistics showing how well measures work are hard to nail down since not everyone is compliant.
What Can Be Done to Help?
That brings us to the BIG question: what can you and I do to help? Well, Sean Hammond, Deputy Policy Director of the Michigan Environmental Council, says that, 'Eliminating plastic bags is a necessary step to decreasing the amount of waste and pollution in the long term. Replacing all plastic and paper bags with reusable bags would mark a significant shift toward waste and pollution elimination. The first step should be to always reuse bags you have - be it paper, plastic, or textile. Plastic bag fees have been effective in reducing consumption of these bags. With major plastic pollution being found in all waterways, creative solutions, be it bag fees or other options, are necessary to address this society wide issue.'
Hammond also notes that the old mantra of 'reduce, reuse, recycle' is essential to keep in mind. He states, 'Buy less, utilize things multiple times, and then put them into recycling or composting instead of a landfill. Additionally, participate in local clean-ups or organize them. Finally, call your legislators, and let them know you want solutions to the pollution issue facing the world.'
Share Your Comments
With the issue of plastic bags and the state of the environment being such hot topics these days, please feel free to share any thoughts, comments, or suggestions that you may have in the comments section below.