The trouble with plastic

Plastic and plastic products are very much a part of our world especially plastic shopping bags. Canadians take home over 55 million plastic shopping bags every week; 75 per cent of them end up in landfills. An average American family uses 300 plastic bags per year. North America and Western Europe account for nearly 80 per cent of plastic bag use. And if you tied together all the plastic bags used in the US annually they would circle the earth 750 times.

Wait! There’s more bad news.

Plastic bags are made from petroleum or natural gas. These are non-renewable resources wasted by being locked away in millions of plastic bags. Every year an estimated 12 million barrels of oil are used to produce plastic bags in the US alone. They clog our landfills, waterways, and storm drains; of the billions of plastic bags used worldwide it is estimated that only 0.6 per cent  are recycled.

Plastic bags don’t decompose. They photodegrade, through sunlight, into tiny pieces that enter our soils and waterways and further degrade our ecosystem, the creatures that live there, and ultimately, us.

Biodegradable bags seemed to be a solution at one point. However, they require specific conditions to degrade – primarily sunlight and oxygen. If they become immersed in water or otherwise become covered, they will not degrade properly. Some may leave plastic pieces or other residue when they break down, leftovers that natural systems, wildlife, and human beings cannot tolerate.

Are paper bags an option? In 1999 the US alone consumed 14 million trees to make 10 billion paper grocery bags. It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does a plastic bag. How long can we continue wastefully using up our resources before they run out completely?

It didn’t take long at all for plastic to become a problem on earth. The first plastic sandwich bags were made in 1957; plastic trash bags started appearing in homes and along curbsides around the world as recently as the late 1960s.

Some cities and countries are taking steps to tackle this problem. The first plastic bag tax was introduced by Denmark in 1994. Ireland introduced a 20 cent fee for every plastic bag used; use of plastic bags was apparently reduced by 90 per cent in one week. Toronto has a by-law requiring retailers to charge five cents per single use plastic bag. Plastic bags have been banned in San Francisco, Oakland, and Malibu. Italy banned plastic bags nationwide on Jan. 1 of this year.


Should Clearwater follow suit by either banning the bags outright or by requiring retailers to charge a fee per single use bag?

North Thompson Times

Clearwater, B.C.