All posts by Green Dispatches

I cover stories about the land we live on. Being kind to each other and the environment is the way forward. Part time journalist, by day I'm a communications professional who has worked in environment and charities for 15yrs.

Five ways plastic bags harm the environment

By Katharine Mansell

While plastic carrier bags use 70% less plastic than they did 20 years ago, they are still made from polyethylene (PE), which is derived from non-renewable oil and require significant energy to manufacture. The stats from the US alone are staggering.

  1. Plastic bags are recyclable and are increasingly being recycled, but the majority still end up in landfill where they decompose for centuries. According to the Welsh Government, they can take 500-1000 years to break down and may never fully decompose.
  2. Plastic bags are finding their way into the ocean, whole and in parts. This causes an immediate threat to marine life by ingestion – for example, some sea turtles eat plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish.
  3. Plastic bags form part of a massive floating island of plastic, one of which is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and is larger than the state of Texas.
  4. Plastic bags are also breaking down in the ocean and entering our food chain, as people eat fish that have consumed tiny organisms which eat particles of the bags along with other plastics. The impacts of the chemicals are only just starting to be understood, but initial research suggests they disrupt hormone balances in the body, which can have devastating effects on human development for example.
  5. Because of the way they are produced, plastic bags are part of what is termed ‘the brown economy’, which basically means anything where its production is reliant on the use of fossil fuels. Although mass production of cloth bags for example are still produced using machinery, they at least have the potential to be manufactured on a smaller scale, which could be more easily made part of a low-carbon, or green, economy.


Top image: (cc) Sustainable Coastlines  2010, made available under an attribution 2.0 generic license with credit given to Brian Heagney (

Are plastic bags Bangladesh’s biggest green ally?

By Katharine Mansell

In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country in the world to ban plastic bags after reports showed how their commonplace littering dramatically worsened terrible floods which hit Bangladesh in the late eighties and nineties, submerging two-thirds of the country under water.

One of the tireless advocates of the bag ban and the man widely credited with helping to bring about this ban is environmental campaigner Dr Shahriar Hossein, who still works now for his charity – the Environment and Social Development Organisation, ESDO.

In a 2011 story from development reporting service IRIN, some critics – including Hossein – have said that use of bag ban use has widely returned due to the alternatives being too costly for everyday use. Some market traders even say their customers demand them.

Episode two of the Green Dispatches podcast catches up with leading environmentalist and Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Dr. Saleemul Huq, on how he thinks the bag ban is faring nearly 15 years after it came into force.

We also uncover a surprisingly positive role that the plastic bag has played in helping secure a more environmentally aware future for Bangladesh.

You can listen and subscribe to Green Dispatches on iTunes or via the Opinion page.


Top image: (cc) SuSanA Secretariat 2011, made available under an attribution 2.0 generic license