Plastic: Recycle or Ban

Vancouver has recently been debating whether to ban plastic shopping bags or not. I was of a mixed mind. After all, if all plastic bags are banned, what do we put our garbage in? I also try to use cloth bags but forget about half the time. Still, I’m sure if there were no plastic bags tomorrow, I would have enough bags for garbage for over a year.

Plastic bags have only been around fifty years or so and they are already a major problem for landfills. But landfill would not be that much of a problem if in fact our garbage was only organic and biodegradable. I would bet that studies will show that plastic water bottles are also contributing largely to the problem. Many North American cities now have recycling programs to filter out paper, glass, tin and plastics so that they are not sitting for hundreds of years in landfills. It’s not a policed system (much) so it takes people’s participation to really work. And not all cities have recycling, which in this day and age, is a sin.

I had a theory that when I use plastic bags for garbage it makes more sense to leave organic waste in than to filter it out because it would help compost the plastic. In theory I was right, but I found out a couple of things that counteract this. Many landfills are lined with clay and other materials to retain seepage of dangerous chemicals. As well, a layer or dirt may be pushed over the garbage to keep down the odor. That’s good for containing the problem but organic waste only breaks down if it has the right amount of bacteria, light and oxygen. Burying the garbage restricts the ability of UV radiation and air needed to break down even a lettuce leaf.

One bacteria that breaks down some types of plastic is Pseudomonas in a process called
bioremediation. Plastic is man-made from petroleum based hydrocarbons and polyethylene (there are other materials as well). The hydrocarbons in the plastic serve as food for the bacteria but there is a question of how long it can take to break down, and what toxic residue is left behind.

The plastic bags that many of us use in many countries are not always discarded safely, nor are they reused. I mentioned an incident in India in my “Not Throwing in with the Crowd: Litter” article. https://colleenanderson.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=76  Plastics in ground and sea get into the water and the soil, slowly poisoning it and affecting all life forms. They can also kill an animal that accidentally eats the plastic, mistaking it for food. And many animals are ensnared by plastic, trapping or injuring them until they expire.

This heartbreaking slideshow was sent to me by a friend. Just click on it to see the effects of plastic bags. If you don’t believe the statistics, the pictures alone should encourage us all to try harder.  thedangersofplasticbags After seeing this and doing a bit of research, I’m now wholeheartedly for banning plastic bags. There are ways of making garbage removal/composting work without the bags or with using other recycled materials that won’t redirect the burden onto trees for paper bags.

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_12751.cfm

http://www.reusablebags.com/facts.php?id=2

http://www.rcbc.bc.ca/index.htm

 

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