Chemical Plastic

June 18, 2012

Should we Ban Plastic Bags Altogether?

Brief: We all know plastic bags are bad for the environment. They litter the landscape and pose a threat to wildlife. But should we ban plastic bags altogether? In a survey recently conducted by the European Commission, most people favored an outright ban on plastic bags, the BBC reported. But are other options more eco-friendly?

 We all know plastic bags are bad for the environment. They litter the landscape and pose a threat to wildlife.

Discarded plastic bags accumulate as “plastic soup” in the Pacific Ocean, covering more than 15,000,000 square kilometers, according to the BBC.

According to the Commission, every year 800,000 tons of so-called single-use plastic bags are used in the European Union.

The average EU citizen used 191 of them in 2010, the Commission says, and only 6 percent were recycled. More than 4 billion bags are thrown away each year.

If shoppers stop using plastic bags, they must start using other kinds of bags, but there is no perfect solution.

Stronger, heavier bags, whether made of fabric or paper, may have a bigger environmental impact than standard plastic bags.

Whatever type of bag is used, the key to reducing the impact is to reuse it as many times as possible.

Another way to reduce the impact is to use plastic bags that are biodegradable.

These bags will biodegrade in the natural environment, but they come in different types. Those made of corn will biodegrade in a landfill environment, but while doing so they produce methane, a powerful global warming gas.

Another type of bag is oxo-biodegradable, which will biodegrade if exposed to air or water, but not in landfill and the cost to make them is much higher.

Paper bags have been the traditional shopping bag in the US, but while these biodegrade in landfill, the UK Environment Agency study says that they have a higher carbon footprint than standard plastic carrier bags.

It also says the available evidence suggests paper bags are not generally reused, either as bin liners–a purpose for which they are not well suited–or for other purposes.

Why are paper bags still popular in the US? The pressure from the powerful wood pulp industry in the country is one important reason.

Originally posted: Chemical Plastic

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