Is it possible to live in a plastic bag-free world?
Yes, it is, and for the 9th consecutive year, the International Plastic Bag Free Day, celebrated on the 3rd of July, reminds us of this possibility.
Let’s face it, plastic bags are everywhere these days, and while they may seem like a cheap, easy way to carry our goods, they are wreaking havoc on the planet in a number of ways. According to the Earth Policy Institute, nearly one trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year.
Why plastic is bad?
- Plastic is basically made from natural gas and crude oil, which are both fossil fuels, and its creation process significantly contributes to carbon emissions.
- Plastic bags pose a great threat to marine life and birds, as it is often mistaken for food, which leads to poisoning, choking, entanglement and blocked intestines – all of which usually result in death.
- Plastic does not biodegrade. Unless recycled properly, plastic will remain on our sideroads, beaches and oceans for well over 500 years. Compare this with the average plastic bag use of 25 minutes.
- Not more than 9% of plastic is recycled globally. Malta has the lowest recycling rate in Europe, at 19%, compared to 56% of Germany.
As a result of the growing plastic bag problem, some countries are taking bold action and ban plastic bag use completely. Other countries have imposed a tax on single use plastic in an effort to curb their popularity. In total 69 countries have passed some sort of full or partial ban on plastic bags.
In Europe, Denmark was the first country to begin charging a tax in 1994. Ireland, also introduced a tax in 2002 but Italy made history in 2011 when it became the first European nation to formally impose a ban on plastic shopping bags. Instead, it became obligatory to switch to biodegradable and compostable bags. Australia and The United States do not have any national strategy to limit the use of single-use plastic yet, however many states took the matter into their own hands, such as California, when in 2014 became the first state to ban plastic bags. In Africa, 16 out of 54 states have totally banned plastic bags but without introducing regulations to enforce the bans. The issue of enforcing the regulations also exists in South America. In 2011, Brazil approved a law prohibiting the free distribution of plastic bags in shop, however its implementation was finally endorsed in 2015. China has announced plans to ban all single-use plastics by 2025. Several other Asian countries have bans, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Hong Kong and India, but in Asia the plastic situation is almost apocalyptic and it will require much bolder actions than plastic bag bans.
Humans consuming plastic
We need to move away from this throw-away society that we have sadly been accustomed to. It is killing the planet and killing us, too. Either through pollution, new diseases, or even by plastic consumption. Studies reveal, that humans are consuming a horrifying amount of plastic. A 2019 joint study quantified that a human, on average eats the equivalent of a Lego brick of plastic every year. Even scarier, microplastics, which are tiny plastic particles smaller than 5mm, are even present inside human placentas, which researchers say it is a ‘matter of great concern’.
The future of plastics
In a new plastic economy, plastic never becomes waste or pollution. Three actions are required to achieve this vision and create a circular economy for plastic. Eliminate all problematic and unnecessary plastic items. Innovate to ensure that the plastics we do need are reusable, recyclable or compostable. Circulate all the plastic items we use to keep them in the economy and out of the environment.
What action are you taking today to mitigate plastic from your life?
One option is as simple as taking a few reusable bags with you to shopping, and choose products with less or no packaging at all. For plastic-free and zero waste shopping, you can visit Coral Shopping – a curated online store, exclusively featuring products that are good for the people, and good for the planet.
Words: Zen D’Amato Gautam. Edited: Gozo In The House
For eco-friendly and sustainable shopping, you can visit Coral Shopping – a local online store curated by Eco Market Malta, exclusively featuring products that are good for the people, and good for the planet.