Social Protection Resource Centre

Plastic Bags: A silent threat to our Climate

Plastic Bags A silent threat to our Climate

Author: Hafsa Abrar, Research Assistant

Worldwide more than 100000 plastic bags are used every minute. This comes to a total of 500 billion plastic bags used annually. Unfortunately, the vast majority of plastic produced has either ended up in landfills or polluting the environment, with only 9% of it being recycled. The present condition of our seas is dangerous, by 2025, there may be one ton of plastic for every 3 ton of fish, and by 2050 there may be a marginal difference between plastic and fish. The yearly average cost of aquatic damage is near to $13 billion. According to Senator Sherry Rehman, who is the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change, Pakistan absorbs 55 billion plastic bags annually as well as the percentage of people using plastic increases by 15% annually. In Pakistan, various government bodies, including the Ministry of Climate Change and provincial Environmental Protection Agencies, have implemented bans on plastic bags and imposed fines for violations to reduce environmental pollution. Enforcement is carried out at both federal and provincial levels, promoting the use of eco-friendly alternatives

Impact on environment and human health

Plastic bags have dangerous impact on climate as they are made from petrochemicals. They cause pollution at the stage of production, consumption and waste. Plastic bags contribute to greenhouse effect mainly through two channels, firstly, production of plastic emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere like carbon dioxide. Secondly, plastic bags are discarded in landfills or over the ground where it does not decompose for longer a very long. Additionally, they remain buried in dumps for hundreds of years. The process of decomposition is slow during this process they release methane gas which is stronger than carbon dioxide. When plastic bags release these gases, they make the earth warmer by trapping heat in air. Plastic bags also contain substance like phthalates and bisphenols that could potentially affect hormones associated with reproductive health. During the decomposition these bags release microscopic particles which may enter our body through food and water while also strongly impacting fertility. Plastic bags cause significant health risks in various ways. Frequent clogging of drainage system and water ways due to plastic bags, creates ideal breeding sites for mosquitos leading to the spread of diseases like malaria and many more. In many under developed countries, plastic resources are burned for the purpose of cooking, during this process, toxic chemicals are released into air which results in poor air quality as well as respiratory illnesses.

Impact on marine life

Many marine animals consume plastic as food leading to blockage in their stomachs and intestine starving and eventually death. According to recent statistics 86% of all species of sea turtles contain plastic. Among seabird species, 44% have consumed plastic. The systems of 43% of all marine animal species contain plastic. Due to increasing evidence, awareness about the adverse impacts of plastic bag use on environment and human health has also increased. People have started to acknowledge these negative impacts.  Many countries have implemented ban on single use plastic while simultaneously promoting efforts for recycling.

Reducing plastic bags requires individual, communities, businesses and governments to make dedicated efforts and use different approaches and ways to reduce plastic population. Single-use plastics including bags, straws, and throwaway utensils should be carefully avoided by all. Instead, reusable alternatives such as metal straws, cloth bags, and reusable containers should be sued and promoted. Governments have to ensure that plastics are recycled in accordance with regional regulations. Recyclables should be cleaned and sorted to ensure proper processing. Government also needs to adopt laws that restrict or outlaw the use of single-use plastics. The federal government needs to empower local governments to put these measures into effect. Government should also encourage businesses that put environmental responsibility first and encourage the use of and access to cutting-edge plastic substitutes, such as plant-based polymers, biodegradable materials, and compostable packaging.

Reducing plastic ban through active civic participation and awareness

Citizens should participate in neighborhood clean-ups to get plastic debris out of parks, beaches, and other public spaces. One can start with spreading awareness about the impact of plastic pollution and the importance of reducing plastic use in its local community. Educate others on how they can make a difference. Moreover, it is essential to also change our consumption patterns. Some of the efforts we can individually make include the following:

  • Choosing products with minimum plastic packaging and those made of sustainable materials.
  • Make small, easy adjustments at home: use glass or metal containers instead of plastic ones, use reusable shopping bags, and steer clear of items that come in a lot of plastic wrapping.
  • Urge companies to adopt sustainable practices, reduce plastic packaging, and create products that are environmentally friendly.
  • Instead of using plastic trash bags, compost organic waste, and come up with inventive methods to repurpose plastic products rather than throwing them away.

By taking these steps collectively, we can significantly reduce plastic pollution and protect our environment for future generations.