Stopping The Use of Plastic Bags
“Plastic should be a high value material… [It] should be in products that last a long time, and at the end of the life, you recycle it. To take oil or natural gas that took millions of years to produce and then to make a disposable product that lasts minutes or seconds, and then to just discard it–I think that’s not a good way of using this resource.”
-Robert Haley, Zero Waste Manager for the San Francisco Department of Environment
Up to ten percent of the world’s oil supply is used to make plastic. Yet, instead of treating plastic like the valuable resource that it is, we merely discard it after one single use, and then expect it to be there again when we need it.
We consume an average of 500 billion to 1 trillion bags each year.
And of those bags, very few get recycled — only one in every 200 bags is recycled in the U.S.
Those that are not recycled, or properly disposed of, make their way to the streets, waterways, and oceans. But plastic is not biodegradable. It’s doesn’t even decompose. It merely… degrades. Which means that in addition to disintegrating into smaller and smaller pieces, it also has the potential to leach harmful chemicals into the surrounding environment.
There is hope for us to stop plastic pollution and even reverse the damage that has been done.
What is Being Done About Plastic Pollution?
Communities, businesses, and governments are taking action to stop the use of plastic bags.
For example, Coles and Woolworths’ in Australia have begun to phase out plastic bags. Tesco, one of Europe’s largest retailers, has stopped selling single use plastic bags. And Aldi, which has offered plastic bags at an added cost for several years now, is now seeking to phase out plastic bags altogether.
According to a report by the U.N. Environment, over 60 countries have also imposed their own bans or taxes on single use plastic bags. This ranges from Denmark’s plastic bag tax introduced back in 2003, to Kenya’s stringent 2017 ban on all plastic carriers in the country, threatening up to $38,000 in fines or four years in jail for offenders.
Over 40 cities have also enacted their own bans or regulations on plastic bags, including Chicago, New York City, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires, and 24 cities/provinces in the Philippines.
While 50% of the bans and levies across the globe have yet to calculate any impact information, about 30% of the cases have deemed their bans successful in dramatically reducing plastic bag consumption. The other 20% that reported little to no change seem to be having problems with regulation, alternatives, and shift towards thicker plastic bags.
An essential component to stop the use of plastic bags, though, is the responsibility of the consumer as well.
How You Can Stop the Use of Plastic Bags
The enforcement of government and business policy is imperative in the transition to a more sustainable and plastic free future, but there are also many things that you can do as an individual to shift public consumption patterns.
One: start to reduce the amount of plastic bags that you consume. Only buying one or two things? Carry them out of the store in your hand. Decline the bag.
Two: recycle the plastic bags you do use. While the best option would be to decline a bag altogether, the second best option, when it’s unavoidable, is to recycle the bags you use.
Three: the most influential decision you can make to reduce your plastic consumption as an individual and as a consumer is to invest in a reusable bag.
Reusable bags have a multitude of benefits and can also double as a conversation starter. While you’re immediately reducing your own consumption of plastic bags with each trip to the grocery store, you can also raise awareness about the plastic pollution problem we’re fighting.
As more and more people begin to bring their own bags shopping with them, it creates social awareness.
On top of that, if you purchase your reusable shopping back from a reputable company, you’re supporting an organization that is actively working to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems.
How We Can Stop the Use of Plastic Bags
Public awareness is a critical piece.
Rising social pressure and public awareness can do wonders in changing the norm, breaking standards, and altering expectations. It is through these means that the campaign against plastic bags has surmounted so much success in consumers, businesses, and governments thus far.
There are a few ways to change norms and drastically shift the perception of single use plastics.
One option is to choose to support sustainable organizations. Shop at stores that charge for bags and support businesses’ choices to ban or tax them.
Another option is to go a step further and promote more public-private partnerships and voluntary agreements in your community and your local municipality. In doing this, you will begin to increase public pressures both in individuals and within larger policy standards.
Another way to do this is to show physical or financial support to organizations looking to facilitate these partnerships. There are several great organizations out there right now that are looking to enact real change both in local communities and across the globe, including:
- Bye Bye Plastic Bags (BBPB)– A youth-driven movement started by two 10- and 12-year old Indonesian girls in 2013 aiming to ban the use, sale, and production of plastic bags from retailers.
- Plastic Pollution Coalition– A growing global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses, and policymakers working toward a world free of plastic pollution.
- Plastic Oceans Foundation– An organization looking to challenge society’s perception of plastic primarily through film and media awareness campaigns.
The Ocean Cleanup– A non-profit organization developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of not just plastic bags, but all plastic pollution.
The issue of plastic bags is not only large in scale but also in impact. It’s an issue that is shared around the world. In order to stop plastic bag use, we must use all of the resources at our disposal to not only change our consumption of plastic bags, but also to change the social perception of this definite and indestructible material we find so disposable.