When you buy something, like foodstuff or clothes, the shopkeeper will normally pack them for you in a shopper bag. Once you get home, you’ll throw the shopper bag in the litter outside. This is the most common way that plastic bags end up creating a menace to the environment.
While plastic bags are very useful in our day-to-day lives, and we seemingly can’t do without them, they have a significant contribution to the environmental pollution, wildlife deaths, human health hazards, and other detrimental impacts.
In this article we highlight 15 harmful effects of plastic bags, cutting across social, economic, health, and ecological aspects of life.
1. Death of animals
Plastic bags kill about 100,000 animals annually. Many animals, including whales, dolphins, turtles, penguins, and dolphins, ingest plastic bags as they mistake them food. For example, sea turtles mistake floating plastic shopping bags for jellyfish. These sea turtles risk extinction partly because of consuming excessive amounts of plastics. Plastic cannot be digested properly and hence will accumulate in the stomach leading to the animal’s death. Even worse, the ingested plastics will remain intact even after the dead animal decomposes. That means another animal may ingest it and eventually suffer the same consequences.
2. Plastic bags are non-biodegradable
Plastic can take up to 2000 years to completely decompose. In fact, all the plastic that has ever been manufactured still lingers in the environment. That means you’ll never live to see the decomposition of plastic.
3. Plastic bags are made from petroleum products
Production of plastic takes 60-100 million barrels of oil from the world’s petroleum reserves. Therefore, plastic contributes significantly to the depletion of this valuable resource, making the prices of petroleum products to rise every passing day.
4. Plastic food storage packages have toxic chemicals
Studies have shown that meals that are eaten or heated in plastic bags result in the development of ulcers, asthma, obesity, and certain cancers. This is attributed to the fact that plastic bags have some chemicals that will mix with the meal when heated. One of these chemicals is Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA helps to make plastic more flexible and durable. While it makes plastic more useful for everyday use, this chemical contributes to serious health risks, especially when it comes in contact with food. Studies on animals have revealed that high doses of BPA have the potential to undermine reproductive development and functions. Studies have also shown that people who have excessive amounts of BPA in their system are more prone to various serious health issues such as diabetes, liver toxicity, and heart disease. This chemical can also have detrimental effects on the brain.
5. Toxic chemicals are released during plastic manufacturing
Ingredients of plastic bags include a plethora of neurotoxic, carcinogenic, and hormone-disruptive chemicals. Some of these chemicals are also released as by-products of plastic production. When released, they eventually end up in our ecosystem through the land, water, and air pollution.
6. Massive accumulations of plastic bags block drainage systems
Plastic bag accumulations are one of the most common causes of drainage system clogging. Developing countries are the most affected with this problem. A good example of this impact is the floods that hit Bangladesh about two decades ago. There was extensive blockage of drainage systems, which was partly attributed to plastic shopping bags.
7. Plastic bags are the main cause of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Plastic bags have contributed significantly to a massive pile of plastic debris found in the North Pacific Ocean. The garbage pile, which is nearly double the size of Hawaii, is known as the Great Pacific Garbage. According to the Wild Studies Institute, 80% of this garbage in the ocean originates from land.
8. 93% of Americans age six years and above test positive for BPA
We’ve seen that Bisphenol-A is a chemical compound that is used in the manufacture of plastic bags. This chemical is found in plastic food cans and water bottles. When the chemical bonds weaken, BPA is released and normally leaches into your food and water.
9. Plastic bags expose children to lung complications
According to the World Health Organization, when pregnant women are exposed to high concentrations of Phthalates and BPA, which are chemical compounds found in plastic, they may give birth to children with lung problems.
These children may also be at high risk of developing asthma later in life. Moreover, children’s exposure to these chemicals has been associated with increased insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
According to the New York University School of Medicine, this problem contributes heavily in the outbreak of childhood obesity and diabetes. It has also been linked to kidney and heart complications.
10. Plastic bag chemicals can affect reproduction in women
Certain chemicals used in the manufacturing of plastic bags, especially BPA, act in the same way as oestrogen. In the long run, these chemicals may interfere with hormonal balance in women and affect reproduction.
Moreover, studies have linked BPA to breast cancer in animals. This chemical has also been associated with thyroid issues and neurologic disorders in humans.
11. Plastic can increase the risk of prostate cancer in men
While plastic-related chemicals largely affect women and children, men are also at risk. According to a study by the World Health Organization, men who are often in contact with phthalates and BPA have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. These chemicals can also undermine their reproductive health.
12. Plastic bags result in the pollution of groundwater
The plastic bags in the dumpsite will normally release chemicals that seep into the ground, ending into the groundwater reservoirs. Then, the detrimental effects of plastics would be passed through the ground to our bodies through the plants we consume and the water we drink.
While many of us believe that groundwater is safe for drinking, the truth is far from that. Therefore, avoid drinking groundwater unless it has been treated for human consumption. Otherwise, you will be ingesting a lot of toxic substances.
13. Plastic pollution disrupts the natural food chain
Pollution from plastic materials, such as plastic bags, affect the natural order of feeding. This is because its harmful effects don’t spare any animal or plant in the food chain, ranging from large terrestrial animals to microscopic plankton.
Plastic may affect these organisms directly when they ingest plastic toxins. It may also affect them indirectly whey they lack food to eat after plastics have killed the organisms down in the food chain.
14. By 2050, the oceans will have more waste plastics than fish
As people continue to dump plastic bags into the environment, which end up into the water bodies, a 2016 Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s The New Plastics Economy report points out that over 8m tonnes of plastics find its way into the ocean.
This is equivalent to throwing the content of one garbage truck into the sea every minute.
15. A lot of water is used in the manufacture of plastic bags
Plastic bags don’t only pollute our water sources, they also take a lot of water from these sources during their production. You’ll need about 22 gallons of water to produce one pound of plastic. There’s no need to waste so much water manufacturing harmful plastics.