May 12, 2019

Phase-out of lightweight plastic bags

Plastic bags cause many minor and major ecological and environmental issues. The most general issue with plastic bags is the amount of waste produced. Many plastic bags end up on streets and subsequently pollute major water sources, rivers, and streams.

Even when disposed of properly, they take many years to decompose and break down, generating large amounts of garbage over long periods of time. Improperly discarded bags have polluted waterways, clogged sewers and been found in oceans, affecting the habitat of marine creatures.[3]

Two primary kinds of direct damage to wildlife are entanglement and ingestion.[8] Animals can become entangled and drown.[9] Plastic bags are often ingested by animals that cannot distinguish them from food. As a result, they clog their intestines which results in death by starvation.[9] Plastic bags can block drains, trap birds and kill livestock. The World Wide Fund for Nature has estimated that over 100,000 whales, seals, and turtles die every year[citation needed] as a result of eating or being trapped by plastic bags. In India, an estimated number of 20 cows die per day as a result of ingesting plastic bags and having their digestive systems clogged by the bags. It is also very common across Africa to have sewers and drain systems clogged by bags which cause severe cases of malaria due to the increased population of mosquitoes that live on the flooded sewers.[10] The term “white pollution” has been coined in China to describe the local and global effects of discarded plastic bags upon the environment.[11]

Lightweight plastic bags are also blown into trees and other plants and can be mistaken for food. Plastic bags break down by polymer degradation but not by biodegradation. As a result, any toxic additives they contain—including flame retardants, antimicrobials, and plasticizers—will be released into the environment. Many of those toxins directly affect the endocrine systems of organisms, which control almost every cell in the body.[12] Research shows the average operating “lifespan” of a plastic bag to be approximately 20 minutes.[citation needed] Plastic bags can last in landfill – an anaerobic environment – for up to 1000 years.[citation needed]

Plastic bags dumped in the Pacific Ocean can end up in the Great Pacific garbage patch. 80% of the plastic waste comes from land; the rest comes from oil platforms and ships.[13] This can be eaten by marine animals, and block their breathing passages and digestive systems. Plastic bags not only add to the Great Pacific garbage patch, they can be washed ashore around the world.

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