The real benefits of bringing your own shopping bags
Plastic misuse is destroying our planet; this is beyond dispute. The issue seems like a mammoth task for anyone to take control of, so where can you even begin addressing the problem?
The answer is more than likely in your home, your workplace and even your car, because a massive part of the problem is bags. Plastic bags account for a huge portion of this global problem and despite increased awareness the issue remains prevalent. Plastic bags are a standout issue and something we can all do something about.
The root of the problem
Plastic bags have been in common use for over 30 years - last year alone, 1 trilllion bags were produced globally. In 2014, British shoppers took home 8.5 billion bags but that doesn't mean the problem is confined to the UK. In 2017 the EU used 100 Billion bags despite almost 15 years passing since the introduction of the first bag tax. The problem accumulates 3.5 million of plastic waste, and this figure only includes the volume of waste discarded.
One of the major problems with plastic bags is how long they take to degrade. A bag in landfill could take 10-20 years to fully breakdown, meaning generations after generations will be dealing with this environmental hangover. The cost of recycling bags also remains quite high in regions with older recycling plants and machinery. Centres like ReGen are an example of the most advanced recycling centres globally, and they recycle plastic from all over the UK.
What is the impact?
As European Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella puts it, “Nearly 80 % of the litter in the sea comes from the land. Most of it is plastic. We're now finding plastic bags in the stomachs of seabirds and stranded whales, so it's obviously time to act.”
This quote combined with the fact that plastic kills 100,000 marine creatures a year proves the issue is devastating our seas. It is estimated that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of the ocean. This is a truly global issue, damaging ecosystems unfairly all over the world. Plastic waste from Spain, America and other countries is finding its way to the Arctic coastlines and killing wildlife.
Sourcing this plastic is not good for the environment either, with incredulous amounts of oil used. 4.3bn litres of crude oil are used to make the plastic which is very often discarded and the process begins again.
What’s the solution to the plastic bag problem?
Essentially we need an urgent culture change in how people shop and discard bags. Some success stories are beginning to come to the fore, and Ireland is one such shining light. Since the introduction of the Plastic Bag Levy, plastic bag usages has dropped by almost 95%. Irish people are now using an average of 18 bags per year, compared to 330+ pre-tax.
Other factors which help are stores which replace ‘Bags for Life’ because this ensures the bag is recycled and not just sent to landfill. ReGen’s work saves tonnes of plastics from a life at landfill, even using waste to produce fuel. Work like this saves not just waste on land but also prevents the plastic problems at seas worsening. The problem is not one for big companies alone however - the onus is on individuals and families to reuse bags, use tote bags or simply recycle what they use more and more often.