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There is no arguing on the fact that plastic bags are extremely bad for our planet. Not only are they made out of flimsy plastic that leach into water and soil, but they are also the most commonly used single-use plastic all around the world. For the sake of convenience, these plastic bags are used for just a couple of minutes and discarded away. And once they are discarded, they often end up in the landfills or in the ocean.
Studies have shown that the average life of a plastic bag is about 12 minutes. It is of value only for those 12 minutes, post which they are carelessly chucked out and you know what’s even crazier? The weight of each and every plastic bag weighs down on the shoulders of our planet, causing it a lot of harm.
Each year, around 100,000 marine animals lose their lives because of our negligence and because of how carelessly and thoughtlessly we consume. Even in our landfills, these plastic bags don’t decompose but only break down into tiny microplastics that are extremely toxic and can be very harmful to all animals, including human beings.
Despite there being a great amount of evidence that plastic bags are permeating into our air, soil, and water and causing us a lot of harm, we humans are not doing much to change the situation. The numbers are staggering – each year, there are 500 billion plastic bags used all over the world. To make this fact more fathomable, this breaks down to about 150 plastic bags used by each person every year.
Since the use of plastic does not seem to be slowing down at all, governments of countries have decided to take matters in their own hands and impose some bans. The US seems to be the forerunner when it comes to using plastic bags. Out of the 500 billion plastic bags, they themselves are responsible for 380 billion plastic bags each year.
Because these numbers are so crazy, about 127 countries in the world have taxed or banned plastic bags to some extent. A lot of rules and regulations have been out in place to control and moderate the production of single-use plastic bags.
127 countries across the globe have some sort of plastic bag ban or tax in place to control the production and consumption of these bags. Out of these 127 countries, about 32 of them have strict plastic bans in place. Half of Africa has a strict plastic ban because these plastic bags are seen as a huge menace. They clog up drains and increase the number of malaria cases.
The severity of the ban varies from one country to another, and Kenya has some of the strictest laws in place. They state that anyone making, selling, or importing plastic bags will face a harsh fine of about $19,000 and can also face 4 years in jail. These laws keep the plastic bag issues in check.
When we look at the rules China has in place to control the consumption and production of plastic bags, it gives us some hope. In 2008, the government of China came up with the following regulations –
1. A complete ban on single-use plastic bags that were thinner than 25 microns
2. A levy on thicker plastic bags
3. Great promotion of reusable cloth bags and shopping baskets
India has had a plastic bag ban active since 2002, but still, a lot of work needs to be done to get to the root of the problem. One big problem in India is that stray cows end up eating all the plastic bags found in the trash and also die prematurely. Hopefully, the ban brings about a change in this situation.
18 other countries may not have the ban in place, but they do have certain taxes in place to control plastic bag consumption and production. Ireland is one such example, where the 22c plastic bag tax has reduced plastic bag usage by 90%. Other countries with such incredible success stories are Portugal (85% drop) and Denmark which has the least numbers in all of Europe. Europe has really fixed its numbers, making 4 bags per person per year on an average.
America still has a long way to go when it comes to taking the right steps to make a significant dent in the existing plastic bag consumption numbers. Every single second, about 160,000 plastic bags are being used, out of which only 1 to 3% are recycled properly. The rest 97% ends up polluting our oceans, soil and the air we breathe.
Kenya is one of the biggest case studies we can look at when it comes to banning plastic bags. The thin plastic bags plagued all the marketplaces of Kenya once upon a time. These same bags became the cause of clogged up drains and dirty water stagnating on the side of the roads which also became breeding grounds for mosquitoes. One issue led to another, and malaria became the end result.
This was when the government decided to ban this thin and flimsy single-use plastics. Now instead of using these thin plastic bags, people are now using reusable thicker plastic bags. While you may wonder if one plastic being replaced by another plastic is the solution, it sure did work for Kenya with an 80% success rate. This move prevented the use of 100 million plastic bags in a single year.
As we described earlier, in Europe the average consumption of plastic bags has become as low as 4 bags per person per year, and this was only possible because of the strict and well-placed laws and taxes.
In China, the laws that were put in place really helped reduce the numbers immensely. In one year itself, there was a reduction of 40 billion plastic bags! And within the next seven years, the number of plastic bags used in supermarkets and shopping malls dropped by two-thirds. While these numbers are pretty impressive, not much changed in the rural scenario because of weak law enforcement in these areas.
Fighting the plastic epidemic, at the end of the day, comes down to policy change, and while there are certain limitations to these laws and bans, a lot of good has been achieved thanks to them.
In conclusion, the only way the single-use plastic bag issue can be resolved is by enforcing strict laws and nipping the problem in the initial stages, in this case, production needs to be curbed and more reusable options need to be introduced to the masses so that people can move past their own convenience and reflect upon how their actions impact life on a whole.
About Plastic Collectors : Plastic Collectors is a collective of dedicated and highly motivated people who work tirelessly to spread awareness about why plastic should be reduced, reused, and recycled. They have tied up with various plastic recycling units across the globe and convince citizens to collect plastic trash from beaches, roads and wherever possible and drop it off at the recycling centers. They also get compensated for their work, which encourages more people to contribute and make a bigger difference! Click here to know how you can join the cause.