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The ban on plastic bag use

May 12, 2015, 10:01 AM

In less than two months the Gambian nation will come to grips with the reality of having to do away to a large extent with the use of plastic bags, if the recent ban on the importation and use of plastic bags in the country takes effect from July 1 this year, as announced by the state authorities.

Though it may seem to be difficult to grapple with by the nation at the initial stage of its implementation, as it would also affect firms and businesses that engage in the trade of plastic bags, the move has a lot of good to our existence as a nation.

This is because the indiscriminate use of plastic bags in the country poses a “serious existentialist threat to the fragile ecosystem of the country and presents an unwarranted environmental eyesore,” and a lot more harm to us as a people.

It is, therefore, essential that we put out a piece by the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NTEPA) on the environmental impacts of plastic bag use.

The NTEPA gives a synopsis of the hazards of plastic bag use in a country. The hazards, it states, include danger to animal life, pacific trash vortex, litter problem, loss of resources, and greenhouse gases.

Danger to animal life, especially when they find their way into the sea.

Plastic bags are quite commonly mistaken for food by animals, especially when the bags carry food residues, are brightly coloured or are animated by the movement of water. A great variety of animals, land and especially marine, can choke to death on bags, experiencing much pain and distress. If swallowed whole, animals may not be able to digest real food and die a slow death from starvation or infection.

Pacific Trash Vortex

The amount of floating plastics in the world’s oceans is increasing dramatically. The Pacific Trash Vortex is a ‘gyre’ or vortex of marine litter in the North Pacific Ocean. The vortex is characterised by exceptionally high concentrations of suspended plastics, such as plastic bags, bottles, containers and other debris, that have been trapped by currents. It is now estimated to be twice the size of Texas. Its impact on marine ecosystems is catastrophic due to its toxic nature and threat to marine life.

Litter problem

Plastic bags are a highly visible, ugly component of litter. Local and State Governments around Australia spend more than $200 million per year picking up litter. If plastic bags continue to be used, the number of bags littering the environment will increase over time.

Loss of resources

Plastic bags are typically used for a short period of time but take hundreds of years to break down in landfill. While plastic bags can be recycled, only a tiny proportion of plastic bags are collected and reprocessed.

Greenhouse gases

Based on using ten lightweight plastic bags per week over a 2-year period, the greenhouse gas impact has more than three times the greenhouse gas impact of a reusable ‘green bag’.

A lightweight plastic bags consumes about 4.5 times more energy in its manufacture than reusable ‘green bags’.

Remember, however, that to get the full greenhouse gas benefit from a reusable ‘green bag’, it must be reused over 100 times.

Starch-based biodegradable (or ‘compostable’) bags consume less than one-third of the energy to produce as plastic alternatives, but emit marginally more carbon dioxide (CO2 - a greenhouse gas) as they decompose. However, unlike single use plastic bags, biodegradable bags will completely breakdown.

“Environmental pollution is an incurable disease. It can only be prevented.”

Barry Commoner