What happens when plastic bags are banned?
Most people want to do the right thing for the environment and for wildlife. Plastic sacks and carry bags are targeted by good-intentioned environmentalists and citizens as a major cause of litter, landfill issues, and sustainability.
What are the facts? When you use common sense along with a little scientific support, plastic bag bans appear to be rooted in misunderstanding and misinformation.
Mouse over the FACTS icon or text to see facts you can verify.
Answer: Air and water quality worsens
. To prevent health hazards from bacteria and viruses, they must be regularly washed (once a week is recommended). Common sense prevails. Would you wear your clothes sevearal times a week without washing them? Reuse bags harbor bacteria and germs and carry them from store to home...and back again. Plastic bags maintain sanitation.
It is a well-known fact that residential laundry is perhaps the greatest source of pollution to our water supplies, rivers, streams, lakes, ground water, and oceans. The pollution affects every last animal and marine organism.
If reusable bags are washed only once a month (once a week is recommended by health experts), it represents about an 8% increase in washings (due to their nature they should be washed separately). An 8% increase in washings is enormous. The laundry detergent industry is 6 billion dollars annually in the US. Here’s a visual picture of this tremendous volume: Divide the cost of a jumbo economy box of Tide® detergent into $6,000,000,000 and it translates to over 140,000,000 boxes, about 126,000 truckloads.
Fact: An 8% increase in laundry detergent = 11,200,000 more jumbo detergent boxes; 10,080 additional truckloads!
- An additional 26.64 billion gallons of polluted water into the lakes, rivers, oceans, and ground water.
- 11,200,000 new laundry detergent boxes and plastic jugs into the trash stream.
- Exhaust emissions from 1,260,000 gallons of gasoline (10,080 truckloads).
- Additional pollution from manufacturing operations.
According to the National Center of Biological Information (NCBI)
surfactants used in laundry detergent to help remove dirt and grime from clothes are referred to as anionic or nonionic surfactants are dissolvable products derived from petroleum. They contribute to air and water pollution in both manufacture and worse, disposal.
According to the EPA
, surfactants are toxic to aquatic life. According to the NCBI
all anionic surfactants are harmful to aquatic organisms. Most, if not all, laundry detergents use them. They reduce fish and plankton populations and contribute to lower birth rates. The EPA
also warns of a link between surfactants and disruption to the endocrine system affecting metabolism, normal development, reproductive problems, and birth defects.
Answer: Plastic litter from the United States is a very small part of the Pacific garbage patch.
The plastic in the Pacific patch is primarily generated from slippage in landfills in Asia. Unfortunately too many are near rivers and oceans. Slippage causes landslides and trash then flows into a river's current, into the ocean and into the Pacific current. In many places in Asia, such as China, there is open dumping of trash right into rivers and the ocean. It is a “way to get rid of it”.
In the United States, plastic bags are cited as anywhere from .04% to .8% of all litter. Trash from the west coast of the US that finds its way to the ocean would tend to wash up on the west coast of Baja California in Mexico before going into the Pacific patch. There are no reported issues of litter washing up on the Mexican Pacific coast shoreline.
Much of Asia has been addressing its plastic trash issues. Many Asian countries, led by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, VietNam, Pakistan, and parts of Southern China have adopted laws that requires plastic packaging to be degradable, either bio-degradable or oxo-degradable (initiated by exposure to the sun). Oxo-degradable plastics become bio-available once the disintegration process begins. Degradable plastics can effectively end the litter issue once and for all.
Note: photos of the Pacific garbage patch taken by Tree Hugger, The Daily Green
, and VBS
tend to show a preponderance of other forms of waste such as wood, broken plastic objects, re-use bags and rope. According to National Geographic
there is no visual picture of a large mass of trash, only smaller items such as glass bottles, aluminum cans, medical waste, tires, microplastics, and so on floating entangled above and below the surface. They do not cite plastic bags as a component. Google Images
has no images and posts a "report images" link for "plastic grocery sacks in the Pacific garbage patch". See Verification
Answer: More toxins are released into the environment.
Even though they are called "single use bags", most people reuse plastic grocery sacks as trash bags (90% or more). The massive ink on the box is greater than the amount of ink used to print the equivalent in plastic sacks. Although they use "non-toxic" inks, they still contain toxic heavy metals. If the consumer uses a paper bag instead, the amount of ink is 3 times that of a plastic bag. If the trash bag box or paper bag is recycled, the ink becomes a contaminant and either washed out and into the water supply (eventually into the oceans, lakes, or groundwater), or; it is carried through into the next product in which it is used, thus increasing its toxicity.
Toxicity is compounded by the large amount of paperboard used to manufacture the retail trash liner material and the toxins generated when boxes are manufactured. For example, there are from 25-50 retail boxes used for 1000 trash bags compared to only one carton (usually recycled material with a single black imprint) for 1000 grocery sacks. It is well known that paper mills are among the worst polluters in the world.
The trash issue is further compounded. The 25-50 retail boxes go into larger cardboard cartons (1-2 or more), which use more ink and create more trash. Plastic grocery sacks don't require additional cardboard cartons since they are packaged and shipped in bulk.
Read Fact #4 about added energy and gas costs.
Polyethylene is not toxic.
In fact, it is inert. Polyethylene is a hydrocarbon: hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. It is the same chemical make-up as sugar. The only difference is that the molecular chains are very, very long and cannot be eaten by microbes. These long chains don't degrade for 500 to 1000 years. You can eat polyethylene resin pellets and they pass through the body.
All inks are toxic.
Ink toxicity is less in water-based inks than in oil-, soy-, or alcohol-based inks, but it is still toxic. A good analogy is what would you rather drink...a cup of oil-based paint or acrylic paint? The answer or course is neither. While inks are indeed toxic, the most toxic are red inks (cadmium).
Reuse bags increase toxins in the environment.
Accornding to the Environmental Agency of Great Britain, plastic bags are 200 times less damaging to the climate than reusable cotton bags. And canvas bags have to be used a minimum of 171 times to reach a break even point. According to one source the Chicobag(TM)
can be used as few as 11 times, but that type of bag is impractical for large grocery purchases. Their claim is not qualified by an independent third party. Read more in Fact #8