How do plastic bags affect the environment?

Plastic bags affect our landscapes

It is a well-known fact that plastic bags affect the environment and in consequence, affects us. Our yearly usage is, remarkably, increasing out of ignorance of their impact.

And because we’re ignorant, we don’t know how do plastic bags affect the environment, and what can we do about it?

Everybody uses plastic bags; they are a modern convenience that seems to be necessary and that we’re unable to do without. Whether in our daily life or in some large industries (like fashion that affects deeply the environment).

Every day, we see plastic bags blowing everywhere around, whether in urban or rural places affecting all types of biomes and organisms and causing harm to the environment in a severe way.

Because plastic is made out of petroleum (oil), plastic bags release toxic chemicals when they’re getting into the soil, the worst thing: plastic bags can’t dissociate or, at least, fell apart even after 100 years!

In this article, we’re going to discuss the main problems that they’re causing and their dangerous effects. If you understand how do plastic bags affect the environment and avoid their usage you can, easily, change your habits and begin your green living journey.


The environmental impacts of plastic bags:

No matter how we present the types of damages that cause plastic bags, they’re still a lot more of it. However, there are three of the most significant problems:

1. Harming wildlife:

Plastic bags affecting animals and wildlife

Plastic bags are quite commonly mistaken for food by animals, especially when bags carry food remains.

Whether terrestrial or aquatic, these animals are experiencing hard pain and suffering from serious health problems once swallowing it.

If ingested, plastic bags cannot be digested, stays in the gut (preventing food digestion) and gathers in the digestive tracts causing intestinal obstructions. These results lead to a very slow and painful death.

According to recent statistics released by Ocean Crusaders, approximately 1 million animals die from plastic including birds, cows, whales, seals and turtles and many more.

A common fact about plastic bags:  It takes a very long time to break them down. So, when the animal dies and decomposes, the bag(s) will be released in the soil and would harm another animal that might eat the same bag, and the cycle would continue over and over again.

On the other hand, marine creatures are suffering greater harm.

More than 700 marine species died due to the ingestion of plastic entanglement, plastic that leaks into oceans and kills over 100 million sea turtles and marine mammals, as they often mistake them for food such as jellyfish.

A new study conducted by the University of Queensland (published in the Conservation Biology Journal), shows that more than 70% of Dead Sea turtles have plastic inside their intestines.

In 2018, an article published on HuffPost, says that a sperm whale was found on Murcia (Spain), dead with 64 Pounds of Trash in its digestive system – Very Chocking, but sadly true!

2. Ruining soil and urban areas:

Soil is strongly ruined by plastic bags

In addition to wildlife harm, plastic bags cause also a huge issue to land. As it is mentioned, when the plastic is getting into lands it releases very toxic chemicals and damages the micro-bacteria living in the soil. These bacteria are essential for fixing atmospheric nitrogen and carbon, producing organic matter and immobilizing enough nutrients to initiate nitrogen cycling processes in the young soil.

When chemicals access into the soil, it obstructs the cycling processes and prevents early successional plant growth.

So, plastic bags are blown by the wind; they’re carried long distances and stuck in trees, or end up into storm drains when collected and carried by runoff water and clog the sewers.

The bags form clumps in these sewers and block the flow of water, so it prevents runoff water from properly draining, contributing to the accumulation of water on roads which forces them to be closed.

Just understand how these simple bags could block the circulation of a whole city and inconveniences people living in that area, for it could damage cars, buildings and may even cause the death of citizens.

3. Aesthetic Deterioration

Plastic bags cause urban cities aesthetic seterioration

From forests, fields to deserts and wetlands, plastic bags ruin the appearance of every area where it ingathers.

In urban places, they’re highly visible and ugly. In Australia, more than $200 million is spent to pick up litter, and the amount is increasing each year as the number of bags littering the environment increases over time.

As for the forests, the case becomes more complicated, over 30% of deforestation is caused by the accumulation of plastic bags in soil and they’re stuck in trees, which lead commonly to the deterioration of natural landscapes and green views.

Consequently, distorting these natural landscapes can have cultural, economic impacts and then affecting human health.

What can we do about it?

The time has come to carefully examine how do plastic bags affect our environment present and observe the challenges they may represent. That being said, we need to implement strategies that are likely to reduce the amount of environmental damage they cause.

Several countries and cities have enacted legislation to ban or severely reduce disposable plastic shopping bags.

In the USA, some states are focusing on implementing effective recycling programs, while others are imposing bans or fees to discourage the use of plastic bags altogether.

California, Portland, New York, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C, all of these cities enacted legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at every retail store. Most of them are imposing as well a 10-cent minimum charge for recycled or reusable plastic bags.

However, there still too much bags littering the planet; researchers estimate that 500 billion plastic bags are used each year. We’re talking about 266 tons in 2014 that dropped into 171 tons in 2016.

No way out! Because plastic bags still affect the environment.

And this has to stop before it’s too late!


Recycling Programs

Plastic bags recycling processThink about plastic bags recycling as a saving strategy. In fact, recycling a ton of plastic bags (about 500.000 bags) saves more than 10 barrels of oil.

Accordingly, plastic recycling is the process of recovering different types of plastic materials in order to reproduce them into a different non-recycled product.

Plastic recycling goes through five different stages in order to ensure the variety of types of products that would be made:

  • Sorting: Separating each type of plastic before proceeding to the shredding machine.
  • Washing: It is necessary to wash plastic waste in order to remove some labels and adhesives.
  • Shredding: It is about preparing plastics for recycling by tearing them up into small pellets.
  • Classification of Plastic: Classifying the plastic pellets is made to differentiate their quality.
  • Extruding: The shredded plastic is liquefied by heat and extruded into pellets and then make different types of plastic products.
Reusable bags

Reusable bags made with cottonHonestly, the best way to reduce the impact of bags is figuring out how to reuse them over and over.

Cotton bags is a real sustainable option to eliminate the usage of plastic bags, and their production process can save water and energy consumption 100 times better than plastic bags production.

What are the advantages of cotton bags?

–  Able to hold more items than traditional bags
–  Can be used repeatedly
–  They are biodegradable
– Save natural resources waste
– Their usage can reduce food poisoning because they’re washable

The only disadvantage?

More expensive than plastic bags but only for short-term thinking! In spite of the fact that a single bag may cost you up to $6, there is much more about it. Think about it as an investment for your future safety and the safety of your planet, $6 is the cost that you must pay to keep your life green and then to save the ecosystem that, all of us, destroyed over time.

I think it’s time to pay for the waste that we’ve been causing to the environment. We have to think about alternatives and keep our life green. That’s the mindset we need to be shifting.

If you’ve got any other solution(s), let us know in comments.

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