In the last few years plastic bags are have been branded as major culprits of environmental pollutants, and have been declared as environmental hazards. On the one hand plastic bags are being distributed by the dozen at no charge to the consumer, while on the other hand, are being used indiscriminately by those same consumers. Moreover, plastic bags are rarely reused, and are usually simply thrown away after their first and only use.
In the US alone, almost every person uses approximately 2 bags per day, which may not sound like a lot at first, but amounts to more than 700 bags per year per person. Multiply that by the number of residents in the US, and you’ll get more than 100 billion bags being used every year! Numbers that high aren’t even affected if slashed in half or even by a third.
One problem with plastic bags is that they are made of petrochemicals, a nonrenewable resource. But the major problem is that they never break down. They might fall apart, or break into smaller pieces, but it literally takes hundreds and sometimes thousands of years before plastic degrades. Conventional plastic bags are not readily biodegradable under any normal circumstance. That being said, plastic bags are usually not disposed of properly and represent a major hazard to wildlife. Tens of thousands of whales, birds, seals and turtles are killed every year from bag litter in the marine environment often mistaking plastic bags for food. These bags, once ingested, cannot be digested or passed by an animal so it stays in their digestive tract, preventing food digestion and ultimately leading to a very slow and painful death.
Environmental organizations have recently picked up on this fact, and have begun acting towards the abolishment of plastic bags, forcing retailers to seek alternative solutions. Though a solution similar to Ireland’s PlasTax has been said to reduce plastic bag consumption by 90%, and is one considered by various countries around the world, the problem seems to be thrown in the retailers’ faces to come up with possible solutions. One of the more popular solutions, which have recently become more feasible with retailers, is offering consumers reusable bags. These bags usually made of the following materials and costs:
- Polypropylene (a type of plastic) $0.70
- Cotton/Canvas $5-$8
While some of these bags DO reduce plastic bag consumption, and DO serve the purpose of helping mitigate all the harm plastic bags have on the environment, the main problems with their implementation are three-fold:
(1) the consumer market needs to be ‘educated’ about this new form of shopping and why it is good for the environment.
(2) This ‘education’ carries a very high price in the form of advertising.
(3) Consumers are those that have to pay the high price of “being green”, while businesses claim that they are actually the ones “going green”. This carries resent from the consumer-side, as well.
These facts are not eccentric and even fill the virtual world with multitudes of blogs resenting the use of these reusable bags. Moreover, this approach of forcing the consumers to pay for their bags has actually been tried in the 1980’s in the US and in Europe, and has failed miserably, as consumers were not willing to pay for their grocery bags.
There is another solution that has been floating around in the last several years but never really caught wind. Biodegradable bags are usually starch-based, obtained from corn or potatoes, which can be converted into lactic acid, which can then be polymerized to the biodegradable plastic known as polylactide. Corn- or potato-starch bags still remain expensive relative to the conventional plastic bags. Recently, however, some bags like those made with the actual plant fibers are able to provide high-quality biodegradable bags within a reasonable price range. These biodegradable bags DO present a more feasible solution to both the environmental problems and the consumer-behavior-alteration problem stated previously. MK shoulder bag