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Perhaps one of the most commonly questions in the past, is now rarely heard by consumers. Four out of five grocery bags in the US are now plastic (Reusablebags.com). However, the answer should not be merely plastic, the real answer is neither. Plastic bags are very harmful for the environment, and paper bags even more so. The best alternative is a reusable bag, which can save thousands of plastic bags over its lifetime.
Plastic bags are everywhere. We see them anywhere from the town grocery market to the convenience store down the street. Admittedly, plastic bags are very convenient. They are a cheap, hygienic way to transport one’s purchases. However, once they get home, there is not much use for the piece of plastic. Sure, some reuse them to line trashcans or to carry their things around. The truth is, the world goes through anywhere from five hundred billion to a trillion of plastic bags a year. The U.S. consumes about 100 million bags every year. Millions of those end up as litter every year. They fill our landfills and pollute the environment (Reusablebags.com).
Admittedly, the plastic bags are still a better alternative for the environment than the paper bags. According to National Geographic News, “plastic grocery bags consume 40 percent less energy, generate 80 percent less solid waste, produce 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and release up to 94 percent fewer waterborne wastes, according to the [Film and Bag Federation]” (Roach). Also, it takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper (Reusablebags.com).
In reality both are extremely dangerous for the environment, as both cause litter and neither degrades very fast. Plastic bags, especially, which are not biodegradable. They actually photodegrade (which can take up to one thousand years), which means that instead of degrading to be part of the soil, they break down into smaller toxins, which pollute the soil and water instead. Eventually, they make their way through the food chain as animals ingest them (Richard).
There are a lot of different opinions about the way we should handle the
situation. Some suggest that we should ban the plastic bags altogether. Some would recommend simply putting a tax on the consumption of plastic bags.
While banning plastic bags would seem like the logical way to approach this, the problem would only get worse. While the population would not be using plastic bags, they would be using paper. As we can see, paper bags are even worse for the environment than the plastic ones. Also, the ban on plastic bags will not cause people to start using reusable bags; it may actually cause a shift of the production to other use-and-toss bags (Reusablebags.com).
The ban on the plastic bags had not worked out for places nearly as well as the PlasTax. Ireland, for example, imposed the PlasTax, which is a tax on plastic bags. However, there are some exemptions to the tax, which include heavier weight reusable plastic bags; bags used for meat, fish, or poultry; bags for unpackaged produce, ice, or other foods without packaging (Reusablebags.com).
The PlasTax worked so incredibly well, that plastic bag consumption was reduced by a whopping 90 percent, and approximately one billion fewer plastic bags were used. The amount of litter was dramatically reduced, and eighteen million liters of oil were saved. Several other countries and cities around the world are now considering implementing a similar tax, including UK, Australia and New York City (Reusablebags.com).
The plastic bag industry is still trying to hold on, however. The plastic bag industry has announced that they are going to try to reduce the amount of plastic made by forty percent by the year two thousand fifteen. They want to use forty percent recycled material. Although their attempts seem great, some can see right through them. It is a way for the plastic bag industry to stay in business and still make money. However, the age of the plastic bag is over, and they know it (Horovitz).
I believe that the goal we should all strive to achieve is to use a reusable shopping bag for our purchases every time, or at least as often as possible.
I really don’t think that banning plastic bags will motivate the population to do so. I strongly believe that a tax on plastic bags would be most effective in getting people to realize that plastic bags are at least a waste of their money, not to mention the environment. I think that it is about time to begin using our own shopping bags again.
Eco-friendly reusable bags, plus facts & news on plastic bag issue. 05 May 2009 . Horovitz, Bruce. “Makers of plastic bags to use 40% recycled content by 2015.” USA Today 20 Apr. 2009. Richard, Phil. “Students Campaign Against Plastic Bags.” Hesston College Today June & July 2008. Roach, John. “Are Plastic Grocery Bags Sacking the Environment?” National Geographic News 2 Sept. 2003.