Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.
In today’s world, plastic bags have become ubiquitous because of their low costs, durability, and convenience. For many, plastic bags are considered a necessity when buying groceries or other goods. Unfortunately, plastic bags have been damaging our planet for the past 50 years. The U.S. International Trade Commission estimated the United States uses 100 billion plastic retail bags each year. While our environment continues to suffer from increased production and disposal of plastic bags, some communities have taken action.
Sheila Taintor of Storm Surge explains, “If you apply that to Newburyport, that’s about 4.5 million a year and these bags are aerodynamic. They escape into the environment in a second.”
Newburyport banned plastic bags after the law was signed on Oct. 1, 2014, and became the first city in the commonwealth to do so. This leadership move for the community has resulted in a significant reduction in this form of litter with more citizens using attractive, reusable bags.
However, the nation continues to be plagued by plastic pollution, exacerbated by plastic bags. In his web blog, ecologist David Suzuki explains that “besides accumulating in the ocean, they [plastic bags] litter the streets and natural areas, often clogging drainage systems and contributing to flooding.” Not only do bags accumulate in oceans and harm wildlife, but also they can damage our infrastructure when in large quantities. This is a major issue in more susceptible areas with fragile ecosystems and weaker infrastructure. Plastic bags must be banned in communities around the nation so areas that run a higher risk of being impacted by litter and waste are safer.
Globally, plastic bags constitute the fourth largest volume of material that accumulates in our oceans. According to the Oceans Conservancy 2011 Coastal Cleanup, 969,244 plastic bags were found on the Pacific coast alone (Ocean Litter). In addition, “at least 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. That’s similar to emptying a garbage truck of plastic into an ocean every minute,” according to the United Nations. These extreme numbers clearly show the dire need for action on limiting plastic bags.
Plastic bags take a considerable amount of time to decompose once littered in the environment. The article Paper Versus Plastic explains that “light breaks plastic down so it photodegrades rather than biodegrade. Estimates say that this process can take up to 500 or even 1,000 years” (McGrath). So plastic bags may be useful for the time being, but they are disposed of, rarely used again, and take hundreds of years to decompose. Their inability to biodegrade proves another reason single-use plastic bags should be eliminated.
All plastic contributes to the CO2 emissions challenge as plastic is a petroleum product. Therefore, we will be wise to eliminate single-use plastic bottles and packaging as well as plastic bags. Because of the nation’s increase in plastic bag, bottle, and packaging production, our earth is harmed and we are setting up future generations for the worst.
While some may argue that plastic bags offer efficiency, most agree that plastic bags are detrimental to many forms of life. Plastic bags damage ecosystems and areas where infrastructure isn’t advanced. In addition, they take many hundreds of years to decompose. Lastly, the production of plastic bags depletes the availability of crucial fossil fuels.
In order to promote the general welfare and safety for our future generations, the banning of plastic bags is a responsible, proactive step, as proven by the evidence above. I believe human beings should demonstrate enough care for future generations to take actions that will make a difference and not let laziness result in another ecosystem’s problem. Likewise, I hope everyone will request that every Massachusetts state representative support the passage of the bill that has been passed by the state Senate, so we can join the eight states that have banned single-use plastic bags and the more than 100 Massachusetts communities that have already instituted bans.
Sam Cooper is the president of the junior class at Newburyport High School, vice president of the Interact Club, a member of the Environmental Club and an intern for ACES. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column was coordinated by ACES Intern and NHS Senior, Eleni Protopapas, who can be reached at email@example.com to share any comments or questions. To learn more about ACES and our Youth Leadership Initiative, please view our WEBSITE – https://www.aces-alliance.org