Now more than ever before, governments must quickly find ways of developing reliable and sustainable packaging materials. Paper bags, which have for a long time been the choice packaging material are no longer a viable option. To begin with, the process of making these materials normally leads to the emission of toxic gasses in the environment. Worse still, even after incurring an enormous cost in their production, these bags are usually weak and cannot be used repeatedly. However, the most grievous effects of plastic bags are their overall environmental impact. These materials destroy the environment by poisoning water bodies and destroying the ecosystem. In light of this, this paper will analyze the impact of plastic bags on the environment. In addition to this, it will give suggestions on various measures that may be used to stop plastic bag related pollution. Finally, it will form a conclusion based on the arguments raised on the paper.
Keywords: Plastic bags, recycling, environment, ecosystem, pollution
Environmental Effects of Plastic Bags
Plastic bags have a long lasting and detrimental effect on the environment. While the proponents for plastics advocate for their use based on convenience and affordability, the damage that they cause far out ways these benefits. Generally, governments all over the world have been trying to limit and even stop their use; nonetheless, it appears that there are no sustainable alternative substitutes. While the use of paper may be a better alternative, the dwindling tree numbers as well as the increased rates of desertification have made them not to be a viable option. However, despite the challenge of dealing with these bags, it is still possible for individuals to limit their use and to dispose of them responsibly. In addition to this, individuals can also use more environmentally friendly packaging materials as alternative shopping baskets.
The devastating environmental effects caused by plastics start right from the production stage. To begin with, they are made using crude oil, which is a non-renewable source of energy. Worse still, during the manufacturing process, huge amounts of toxic air is emitted into the environment. These toxic gasses normally destroy the earth’s ozone layer, which leads to the emergence of negative changes in the weather patterns. These include the emergence of erratic weather patterns such as sudden heavy rainfall, long summers, and extreme changes in temperature. In turn, these weather changes lead to flash floods, desertification, and storms (Miller & Spoolman, 2015). Similarly, the recycling process of these bags normally results in the emergence of toxic air. Moreover, even after recycling, the final product is still plastic in nature. As a result, it still has a detrimental effect on the environment.
Another, salient issue on air pollution caused by plastic bags is the presence of flying polyethylene materials. Ideally, these flying substances are a nuisance to the environment. Due to the difficulty involved in the recycling of plastics, most of it is normally dumped in landfills. When there is a strong wind, they are usually blown to nearby areas. Evidently, the presence of these bags is very dangerous to the environment. Normally, they have a tendency of landing on trees and nearby plants. When they land on this vegetation, they at times cover the leaves of various plants and lead to difficulty in the vegetation growth (Miller & Spoolman, 2015). In worse scenarios, flying polyethylene materials have the potential of entering the engines of low flying airplanes. In such cases, these substances may lead to accidents.
The main environment impact of plastic bags is on land pollution. Primarily, this is because most of them are never recycled; instead, they are usually thrown into landfills. Worse still, since they are non-biodegradable, they normally remain in their original state and effectively damage the soil. To begin with, although there are policies that require these materials to be recycled, most of them are not recyclable due to their previous use. Plastic bags that have previously carried food materials cannot be recycled. On the same breadth, those that are made for carrying food materials must not be made from recycled materials.
Similarly, while those that are labeled as number 2 and 4 are recyclable, most of them are not recycled since it is not economically feasible for recycling plants. Ideally, these businesses need 40,000 pounds of this type of plastic for the recycling process to be viable. Given that most recycling companies collect less than this amount, recycling is no longer a viable option. Further, even in the event when these enterprises collect this amount of polyethene waste, plastics normally have the tendency of causing machine jams (Botkin & Keller, 2010). In light of this, the companies normally prefer to dump these wastes in landfills. Additionally, even after recycling, the resultant plastic is usually of a low grade (Klein, 2015). Effectively, these issues act as a major deterrent for recycling and leads to dumping of plastics in landfills.
Once plastics are dumped in landfills, their immediate impact is that they inhibit soil nutrients. This occurs because plastics take hundreds of years to decompose. Consequently, they destroy the biodiversity of organisms that live in the soil. In turn, this makes the soil lack sufficient nutrients support farming. On the same note, dumping affects the lives of land animals. In most cases, mammals normally suffocate when they unknowingly have their respiratory systems chocked by these bags. Notably, this is common on animals such as gazelles and antelopes. In the case of unintentional ingestion, these packaging materials affect the animals digestive system (Wright & Boorse, 2013). This leads to a slow and painful death of the creature. Overly, the resulting death of land animals leads to the destruction of the balance of the ecosystem. In turn, this leads to desertification and famine. In practice, land animals are essential for the spread of seeds and promotion of the soil nutrients through their manure.
Notably, most individuals are reluctant to dispose of plastics in the recommended dumping areas. When poorly disposed of, these materials have the potential of clogging waterways, gutters, and sewer grates. In effect, this leads to flooding during rainy seasons. As a result, this leads to the emergence of water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. In addition to this, since these bags have the ability to trap water, they normally store small volumes of it when it rains. In these instances, they usually act as proper habitats for mosquitos (Wright & Boorse, 2013). Consequently, poorly disposed of plastic bags have the effect of leading to a malaria outbreak. Further, in the event that rivers and sewer lines carry them away, they eventually reach the ocean and contribute to sea dumping.
Once plastics are deposited in the ocean, they at times form trash fields, which severely affect the life of sea creatures. One such problem is the formation of trash fields in the Atlantic Ocean where approximately 300 million plastic bags are deposited annually. These packaging materials cause unnecessary deaths of sea animals. Specifically, hunting sea mammals such as porpoises are unable to distinguish between plastic bags and jellyfish (Botkin & Keller, 2010). Evidently, if these animals mistakenly swallow plastic materials, their digestive system is severely affected. In effect, this leads to a painful death due to complication in their alimentary canal.
Another danger caused by plastic bags is the entanglement of the limbs of sea creatures. It is common for sea creatures such as turtles, seals, porpoises, and even fish to be entangled by plastic. In such instances, these bags limit the movement of the sea creatures. This limitation makes it difficult for these animals to find food since some of them are hunters. Moreover, their restrained body movements make it difficult for them to find mates. In turn, this leads to a reduction in these sea creatures. In worse cases, the entanglement leads to choking and death of the organism, or degradation and loss of the entangled limb (Botkin & Keller, 2010). Consequently, the dumping of plastics into the sea directly affects the oceans eco-system.
Worse still, plastics have an ability to increase the oceans toxic levels. Once in the water, they never completely breakdown, however, with the exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, they undergo a slow degradation forming plastic dust which has polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), a known bio-toxin (Enger & Smith, 2015). Generally, this toxin enters the food chain when sea animals consume small pieces of this plastic dust. In turn, fishes eat these organisms and subsequently human beings ingest them. Through this food chain, human beings end up consuming these toxins. This leads to the development of various diseases among humans such as cancer, infertility, genetic changes, behavioral diseases, and a weakened immune system.
Alternatives to Plastic Bags
In order to resolve the detrimental effects caused by these materials, individuals must regularly develop new alternative packaging substances. In addition to this, they must have a culture of properly disposing of their wastes in an authorized manner. These processes can go a long way in reducing the effects of plastic wastes in the environment.
Banning of Plastic Bags
To begin with, governments can ban the use of these materials within their jurisdictions. Effectively, this method can lead to a reduction in their consumption. In turn, this will lead to a reduction in pollution levels. Notably, since the absolute banning of plastics may be impossible, a more realistic measure may be increasing their taxation levels (Wright & Boorse, 2013). This tactic may act as an important hindrance against their use. In effect, their consumption levels may reduce to only the necessary amounts. Overly, this method may limit the level of environmental pollution caused by plastics.
Use of Biodegradable Plastic Bags
Governments and environmental conservatives may lobby for the compulsory use of only biodegradable materials in their country. Notably, this policy will ensure that all the plastic bags in the country are environmentally friendly (Enger & Smith, 2015). Consequently, once these bags are disposed of in landfills they may be able to degrade. Overly, this will ensure that there is the protection of the environment against the harmful effect of non-degradable plastic bags.
Reuse of Plastic Bags
Essentially, one of the greatest cause of increased use of these packaging materials is the endless need for new ones. In order to curtail this unending demand, individuals should reuse their bags before disposing of them. On the same note, governments should encourage the development of heavy gauge plastic bags that can be used to shop several times, before they are worn out (Enger & Smith, 2015). In practice, the presence of these bags may encourage individuals to reuse them a few times. As a result, this may lead to a reduction in plastic related pollution.
Donating Plastic Bags
Another important method of avoiding plastic bags pollution is donating them to recycling companies. In most cases, an individual finds that he/she has a wide collection of these packaging materials that he/she does not intend to use (Wright & Boorse, 2013). Under these circumstances, he/she can always donate them to recycling companies. These businesses can convert these materials into various products such as plastic poles, chairs, and utensils. In effect, this may lead to a significant saving and conservation of the environment,
Use of Paper Bags
The use of paper bags is the most suitable alternative among individuals who oppose plastic. Generally, this concept is formed on the idea that these bags are biodegradable and easy to use. In addition to this, most packaging bags made from paper are from recycled materials. Consequently, their use leads to environmental conservation. Better still, their supporters argue that their use as packaging materials may lead to an increase in planting of trees in order to have an ample supply of wood, a raw material for paper. Effectively, the presence of many artificial forests aimed at supplying wood may lead to a greener and more environment-friendly world. As a result, the use of paper has a double effect on the environment, encouraging for the plantation of trees and reducing the use of plastic bags.
From the discussions above, it is clear that excessive use of plastics coupled with poor disposal practices leads to environmental pollution. While the world must continuously have a reliable method of packaging shopping materials, it is high time that governments develop environmentally friendly methods. Specifically, plastics pollute the world right from their manufacture since a lot of toxic and carcinogenic gasses are emitted during their manufacture. Worse still, plastic bags have a short useful period for individuals. Further, most of them are biodegradable and in effect, they have a long lasting detrimental effect on the environment. Their negative effects range from polluting water bodies, destroying the ecosystem, and blocking drainage systems. In turn, this leads to unnecessary deaths of animals and emergence of diseases. In light of this, individuals should learn how to use plastic bags in a more responsible manner. Alternatively, governments should replace these bags with environment-friendly ones such as those made of paper or cotton. Effectively, this will lead to environmental conservation.
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Enger, E., & Smith, B. (2015). Environment science (14th Ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Klein, N. (2015). This changes everything: Capitalism vs. The climate. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Miller, G., & Spoolman, S. (2015). Environmental science (15th Ed.) New York, NY: Cengage Learning.
Wright, R., & Boorse, D. (2013). Environmental science: Towards a sustainable future (12th Ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.