Dangers of using plastic bags

December 17, 2017

Suitable storage for food is essential to keeping it safe to eat. Consuming food that has been unsuitably stored has the possibility to make an individual sick, particularly if that storage container is a plastic that contains harmful chemicals.


It is a known fact that all plastic comprises of a chemicals that have a potential to harm a person’s health. According to a Gilani Research Foundation Survey carried out by Gallup Pakistan, 3 in 4 Pakistani households use plastic bags to get groceries and other items; only 10% say they use paper bags. Plastic is made up of bisphenol A (BPA) and Diethylhydroxylamine (DEHA) – chemicals which can cause serious health hazards. When food is kept in plastic bags for long, these chemicals leach into the food, rendering it unfit for consumption. In the long run, these chemicals can wreak havoc on your health, even leading to hormonal changes. Moreover, storing fruits and vegetables in plastic bags threaten our endocrine system and plastic bags don’t allow the produce to breath, rendering it bad quickly.


Plastic makes up for almost 90 percent of trash on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.

It is common knowledge that while consumers also see benefits through the reuse of these plastic bags in their day-to-day life; however only a certain amount of bags are recycled every year. The real costs of plastic bags are ignored, and overconsumption ensues. First, there is the cost of producing the plastic bags and operational cost of bringing them to consumers. Second, there are many negative externalities, including many environmental costs, associated with plastic bags. In the economic context, such a situation has led to a market failure for plastic bags. Over 300 million metric tons of plastics are produced in the world annually and about 50% of this volume is for disposable applications; products that are discarded within a year of their purchase.


Plastic bags not only create risks for health but also causes enormous impact on our environment; most plastic bags end up in the landfills, waterways, forests, creeks and on every street corner. It is the improper disposal of plastic bags that results in littering; something that we are used to seeing everywhere that it doesn’t seem like a problem anymore.


Studies connected in the North Pacific Central Gyre on fish that feed on plankton found that 35% of the fish had ingested plastic. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. They also sometimes take in the chemicals suspended in the water like mercury; and these ‘mercury fish’ in turn are eaten by us.


The indefinite period of time it takes on average plastic bag to break down in the environment is hundreds and hundreds of years. And because the breakdown rate is so slow, chances of the plastic bag slowly going away are very slim; in turn it threatens the progression of life. Plastic is not biodegradable, but photodegradable. And in reality, most plastic does not even disappear, but becomes long-lasting “plastic dust”. When items like plastic bags break down, they readily soak up (and release) toxins that then contaminate soil and water. Plastic bags can choke or poison fish, animals and birds, with marine wildlife particularly vulnerable. It has been estimated that one bag has the potential to unintentionally kill one animal per every month due to unintentional digestion or inhalation. If one considers the life considers the number of littered bags ranges to about 2 million depending on its location, this equals a lot of ecosystem sustaining lives lost.


There are always alternatives to plastic bags and the search for more alternatives continues. Paper bags are a possible option but they also take their toll on the environment. Of course, the reusable cloth bag is fast becoming a favorite among environmental supporters. While thus far no bag is without its issues these are the bags that are currently recommended for use to help protect environmental concerns.


Many countries including USA and Australia have taken a stand to protect the environment and health of their inhabitants and many states therein have banned the use of plastic bags. In Pakistan, ‘say no to plastic bag’ campaign started some time ago accompanied by following  laws: the Punjab Prohibition on Manufacture, Sale, Use and Import of Polythene Bags (Black Or Any Other Polythene Bag Below Fifteen Micron Thickness) Ordinance, 2002;  and the Prohibition of Non-Degradable Plastic Products (Manufacturing Sale and Usage) Regulations 2013. However, the proper implementation of the same is yet to be seen.


This initiative to eliminate plastic bags is not of a sort that you need to wait with baited breaths while the government decides to focus on this issue; instead you should focus on limiting the use of plastic bags when you go out next time to buy something as this fight can start with you. As famously quoted in TIME magazine dated April 9, 2000; ‘Climate change is caused by a lot of things, and it will take a lot of people to fix it. There is a role for big thinkers, power players, those with deep pockets—and the rest of us.’

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