Page 1

Plastic Bags: yes or no?

Gabriela Cardenas Bio 338 Fall 2016


For many years, the issue of being environmentally friendly is something that people everywhere in the world want to be a part of. Plenty of less harmful uses of energy have been invented and over the years modified to help emit fewer gases and promote going “green.� The use of solar power to reduce emissions has increased, the use of energy efficient machinery, the more common use of electrical vehicles, as well and the increase of recycling. But like many things, being environmentally friendly requires much more thought and action than what we have been dealing with for the past couple of years. More recently the issue of plastic bag use for groceries and its impact to the environment was very divided when it came to deciding how impactful plastic bags actually were. This issue caused plenty of debate and even made its appearance on this year’s ballot for Californians, proving how controversial the use of these bags really is. Some places around the country already had implemented a ban of these bags, yet they increased their use of paper bags but only provided them to a customer if they wanted to pay for it.

For example, San Francisco adopted the ban in late 2012, and was the first to go through with a plastic ban for their city (Zaremba, H.) Their main goal from banning bags back in the year 2012, is to help them achieve their goal of becoming �waste- free� by 2020, which is only three years away (Zaremba, H.) Once San Francisco took the leap was when it started to become a topic that became well talked about. The realization that it was a change that could be made by the people for the well being of the surrounding environment was what caused the movement that we have seen now in the year 2016. From here on out, the results from these statewide bans on plastic bags, will determine if the rest of the country will follow on the same road.

History of Plastic Bag

The plastic bag became a very popular tool used by grocery stores and many convenience stores for the easy use and transportation it brings to customers. The easy production and low cost is what convinced businesses to invest in the use of plastic bags. Quickly, the majority of grocery stores adopted the plastic bag because of its cheap price and durability compared to paper bags. Yet, ever since their early introduction back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, from the beginning, there was always a debate on the environmental impact versus the utility it provided to customers. Since the early 2000’s, governments around the globe began to restrict the use of bags because of the irresponsible disposal of these plastic bags. Till now is when the the topic has become more projected to society, hence why it has become a topic of controversy even more than before.

No on Plastic bags Plastic bags are ending up on our ocean shores, affecting the ocean wildlife, and not decomposing for the well being of the environment. This is a true fact and there have been studies to prove that it is a problem. Based off a study done measuring the impact of plastic bags on marine assemblages and how it intervenes with the smooth functioning of the ecosystem, there is evidence to prove that over six hundred species encounter with plastic bag waste. This eventually results in choking and even death of a large number of species (Green, Boots, Blockley, Rocha,& Thompson.)  This does not just involve ocean life, but also mammals and birds because of the appearance these plastics give in resemblance to food they prey on. As a result, this causes injury and unfortunately, death for the animal whom consumes the bag. In other cases, these bags that are disposed of end up on coastal side lines, harming primary productivity and proper cycling of nutrients (Green, Boots, Blockley, Rocha,& Thompson.) In a study completed, it was tested whether a bag’s decomposition affected the environment in which it was disposed of. Regardless of their being a regular plastic bag or a biodegradable bag, this caused a loss of species residing in that particular section of their original home location (Green, Boots, Blockley, Rocha,& Thompson.) These bags prevented the production and availability of oxygen in the waters, causing all life that was one living there to search for a new home, leaving the waters and interrupting natural cycles.

For land life, plastic bags are also being consumed by animals, which unintentionally kills anywhere from one to three animals about every three months per bag (Wagner, Jamey.) According to this information, this can easily multiply to millions depending to the exposure these animals have to the wrongfully disposed bags. This as a result affects the adequate life styles of other animals and possibly even humans if natural cycles are continuously interrupted. It has been proven that the disruptions of natural cycles can be catastrophic. Therefore, if we don’t have primary consumers, or any consumers for the matter, this could eventually affect the human population. The unbalanced sources of food throughout the ecosystem, could result in starvation for primary consumers and lead all the way up the food chain ending with our loss of specific foods and meats (Wagner, J.)

Yes on Plastic Bags Plastic bags have been around since the early 1950’s allowing the transportation of groceries and other goods much easier. The introduction of the bag we know quickly replaced the paper bag because of its lightweight and durability for carrying high loads. Its thickness is less than that of a human hair, or even a human eye cornea, yet it has the ability to carry much more weight than one would have imagined. (Mangu-Ward, K.) As Caroline Williams would put it in her essay, the plastic bag became "a hygienic, odourless, waterproof, robust and convenient way of carrying goods". (Williams, C. 2004.) This allowed for people to have the opportunity to have a “free” tote because stores could afford these bags to provide to their customers. Yet, environmentalists quickly went to bash on their production and the effect it could have on the health of the ecosystem as a whole. Through much debate, research has proved that although plastic bags aren’t entirely eco-friendly, they aren’t as impactful to the environment as some believe they are. Plastic bags are only a very small number of the overall litter that is disposed of by humans. Katherine Mangu-ward in her essay mentions that through a study done back in 2009, only 1 percent of the total litter in drains was from plastic bags. Since only a minimal percentage of litter is from plastic bags, the problem of plastics isn’t as large as it has been made to look. Marc Gunther in his article explains that banning plastic bags will not resolve the overall problem of the totality of plastic waste; he brings up the point that we should be recycling plastics more and disposing of them properly. The correct disposals and uses that take place with plastics will diminish the amount of waste in our drains and therefore would not be as big of a problem as we have made it to be. On, some points were made to make a very appealing argument. It is mentioned that taxing a bag will not reduce landfill waste, much less the banning of bags will cause for customers to resort to thicker, less degradable bags such as those made from paper and cotton. (

Summary and Personal Opinion The United States, along with many other countries, has slowly but surely made decisions for the sake of preserving our environment. Whether it has started at individual level and grown to a much larger one, such as this one on plastic bag use, the goal is to preserve the health of the globe for our future generations. However, in this case I did not think that making this issue as big as it was made, was necessary. Throughout the research completed, I discovered that there is damage being done to the natural environment; yet, compared to other forms of trash and pollution, plastic bags have the lowest waste measured in tons. If used properly, plastic bags can be reused multiple times, or even for other uses around the home. With the help of google, I discovered some interesting ways a bag can be given a couple more uses; a plastic bag could be used as a trash can liner, a tool to carry items from place to place, a rain hat, gift wrap, and so many other ways that extend the life of a bag. My dad is the type of person that goes to the grocery store on a random day and comes out with a lot more purchases than expected. With that being said, he brings home groceries in plastic bags. We use bags as lunch bags, and then use them for our bathroom trash bins. We give the bags more uses than just to transport groceries out of the store, which is why I personally liked the idea of plastic bags given at grocery and larger stores. Yet, since the propositions were brought for the people to vote and plastic bags were voted to be banned, we will no longer have these bags to use for our purchases. There will be an option to purchase paper bags, or to simply take personal totes for purchases. Yet, from the research I acquired, it would take more than seven years for the cotton reusable bag to make a difference for replacing the plastic bag. This means each bag would have to be used approximately four hundred times to fulfill its goal of being environmentally friendly.

With this being said, I believed keeping plastic bags wouldn’t have been a negative thing; although knowing how prolong their life and give them more uses would have been something we could have informed individuals who were still using the bags, like my family for example. I have never been a fan of completely banning things once they have been such a normal part of everyday life, and with the approval of this ban, plastic bags are now going to be banned. I understand the reasons why people voted for the banning of bags, but I wish they would fight just as hard to make changes on other factors that are more damaging to our environment. This factor seemed minimal to me compared to the other factors affecting the well-being of our environment. I do believe that we need to preserve our environment and there are ways to do it. The main way is to become informed and to act on the information. Some people were being informed on one side, but not necessarily from both, which goes to show why being informed is so important for any and all issues. If this is going to make a change in the preservation of the health of the environment, I am all for it. On the other hand, if other trash is continuously thrown away wrongfully, this will continue to be a problem and we will no longer be able to place the blame on plastic bags.

(Gift wrapped in bags)

References Green, D. S., Boots, B., Blockley, D. J., Rocha, C., & Thompson, R. (2015). Impacts of Discarded Plastic Bags on Marine Assemblages and Ecosystem Functioning. Environmental Science & Technology Environ. Sci. Technol., 49(9), 5380-5389. Gunther, M. (n.d.). In Defense of the Plastic Bag. Retrieved November 09, 2016, from Mangu-Ward, K. (2015, October 1). Plastic Bags Are Good for You: What Prohibitionists Get Wrong about One of Modernity's Greatest Inventions. Reason, 47(5), 32-38. Rosengren, C. (n.d.). Prop 67 passes in California, yet retailers will keep the fee. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from Wagner, J. (n.d.). The Effects of Plastic Bags on Environment. Retrieved November 09, 2016, from  Williams, C. (2004). Battle of the bag. New Scientist, 183(2464), 30-33.  Zaremba, H. (n.d.). San Francisco's plastic bag ban expands in October. Retrieved October 20, 2016, from 

Plastic bags 2