From supermarkets to neighbourhood corner shops plastic bags are putting up a resilient fight against the so-called “war against plastic”. While there are local ‘victories’, in the grander scheme of things, plastic bags are not going anywhere. Here’s why.
A Negligible Percentage of Domestic Plastic Waste Ends Up in Ocean
First, let’s set the record straight. The images of marine animals trapped in plastic bags, while tragic, are rarer than you think. In fact, regular plastic carrier bags have very little chance of ending up in the ocean. According to a report by The Guardian, over 90% of all plastic wastes in the great Pacific Ocean plastic dump have agricultural origins. The reason for that is blatantly obvious. Most agricultural regions around the globe are riverfront locations and the huge amounts of plastic waste produced are transported to the ocean by those rivers. Cities, on the other hand, have much better waste-collection infrastructure and thus only a negligible percentage of the total plastic bags produced actually ends up in the ocean. According to the same report, household plastic bags make up for a trivial 0.88% of the total industrial, household, and commercial waste produced. By focusing solely on plastic bags, we end up forgetting about the other 99.12% waste that is causing significantly more harm to marine life.
History Proves That Plastic Bag Ban Do Not Work
Banning plastic bags or taxing them heavily is not only short-sighted but it’s downright ineffective. Here’s a history lesson. San Francisco became the first city in the United States to impose a plastic bag ban back in 2007. However, subsequent investigation revealed that the number of plastic bags picked up by garbage trucks actually increased by a slight margin following the ban.
A Practical Way Forward: Biodegradable Plastic Bags and Recycling
When cars were more polluting the governments didn’t ban cars. Instead, there was a strong focus on developing technology to find an environmentally-friendly solution. The automotive industry was forced to make cleaner and more efficient vehicles to meet government regulations and public demand for greener cars. Banning the Ford Model T back in the day would have invariably prevented us from developing the Tesla Model 3 and Prius.
The same goes for plastic bags. They fulfill a useful role in modern lives. Thus, instead of banning them, governments and environmental groups should ideally focus on solutions to make them more biodegradable. Starch-based biodegradable bags are a reality now. Therefore, a positive push towards popularizing them should be a way forward. Government regulations to make bags more biodegradable should also be on the horizon instead of impractical bans and tax hikes.
Plastic bags are highly recyclable, and the process is much more energy efficient than recycling paper. Setting up a network of recycling plants to reach more households should also be a priority.
The negative and oftentimes stubborn stance against plastic bags is keeping the industry from developing a mass-market solution to the problem. Any blanket ban would not only hamper the production of regular plastic bags, but it would also quash the development of bio-friendly bags.