The movement of the plastic bag ban has been gaining momentum in the last 10 years. Since 2007, more than 240 cities and countries have passed laws that have either banned or taxed these plastic hazards. New opinions have surfaced that maybe these bans are hurting the environment more than they are helping it.
A big bag ban in California cities led to people using less plastic bags and ultimately caused 40 million fewer pounds of plastic in the trash per year. People still needed the single-use plastic bags for things like doggie bags and little trash cans. The ban caused sales of 4 gallon plastic bags to increase 120 percent since it took place. These bags use a much thicker plastic, so essentially, 30 percent of the plastic that was eliminated by the ban comes back in the form of thicker garbage bags. Along with the ban on single-use plastic grocery bags came a surge of paper bag usage as well. A study done by Rebecca Taylor of the University of Sydney found that there were 80 million pounds of extra paper trash per year.
There are studies that say the paper bags are worse for the environment than plastic bags. Making these bags requires cutting down and processing trees which use a lot of water, toxic chemicals, fuel and heavy machinery. Although we know that paper bags are more biodegradable than plastic bags and decrease non-biodegradable litter, due to the process of making them they actually increase greenhouse gas emissions.
A strategy that a lot of people have resorted to is using reusable cotton tote bags. However, these are actually even worse for the environment. Making and processing these types of bags uses lots of water, causes damage to ecosystems and negatively affects air pollution. A study done by the Danish government says that you would have to use a reusable cotton tote bag 20,000 times more than a plastic bag to make it better for the environment.
So, if we shouldn’t be using plastic, or paper or cotton tote bags, what on Earth should we be using? According to the study done by the Danish government, some of the best types of reusable bags are made from polyester or polypropylene plastic. These types of bags still need to be reused dozens of times to be greener than the single use plastic, but they have a smaller carbon footprint. The surge of people buying tote bags and other types of reusable bags is also a source of the problem caused by mass producing them. If you want to make the switch to reusable bags, search through your closet and attic.
Another way to decrease the amount of paper and single-use plastic used is to implement a fee or tax on them. With the addition of a fee, there would definitely be a decrease in the use of the single-use plastic bags, but people would still be able to purchase them for reasons such as doggie bags and small trash bags. However, there are doggie bags sold that are made out of a recyclable, biodegradable material that people should switch to if they are pet owners (@Earth Rated).
It seems as if all the new research is leaving us clouded on what to do to fix this issue. The number one solution to decrease the amount of single-use plastic sitting around in our landfills and clogging our bodies of water is to ease up on using single-use plastic. If we don’t use a lot of this type of plastic bag, it won’t pollute our land and water. The second thing people should focus on doing is research. Reading up on research informs you on what types of reusable bags leave the smallest carbon footprint. Another way to use reusable bags without causing more damage to the environment is to reuse bags that are lying around your house. There are also lots of fun crafts that you can do by turning old t-shirts into bags which would be a fun, cheap way to help save water and the environment.
Kaitlyn Pierce is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. She can be reached be reached via email at email@example.com.