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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.