Yesterday I went shopping with my mother at the supermarket.
I was momentarily pleased when my eyes fell on the three vital words printed with green ink on polythene bags into which the cashier was putting our weekly groceries.
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Too bad what happened next was not so ecofriendly.
I could see that the cashier was filling the plastic bags only half full, which made my shopping cart overflow with nine polythene bags. And shampoo bottles and a hand towel were left to pack. When I saw her picking another bag, I could not resist and intervened. I picked up one half-filled polythene bag and asked her to put the shampoo bottles and the towel in it instead of using a new one. She gave me a broad smile and said: “Nggak apa apa” – No big deal. These three casual words shattered my happiness and made me think seriously about this issue.
Polythene is a major cause of today's most critical crisis: global warming. It is estimated that, on average, 500 billion plastic bags are used across the globe. This large number is a compliment to the user friendliness of these plastic bags. Besides being cheap, they are strong, durable and waterproof.
Nevertheless, the disadvantages of polythene bags outweigh their advantages by leaps and bounds. The most alarming truth is that they are not biodegradable. It takes more than 500 years for them to decompose. Just about all the plastic bags ever made on this planet are still in existence. They are in use or intact in landfills or litter. Many contribute to toxic contamination of river systems and oceans.
Amid a long list, a major disadvantage to these bags is that oil is used to make them, and oil as we know is a non-renewable source of energy. Nearly 12 million barrels of oil go into fabricating 100 billion plastic bags.
Plastic bags easily end up as litter since they are light and blow around. Since they do not biodegrade, they can act as breeding places for harmful germs that can cause a severe epidemic.
Because these plastic bags are waterproof, they block water from penetrating the soil, which in turn affects food growth and development. They can also contribute to flooding. They added to the severity of floods in Dhaka two years ago by clogging drains.
Many animals die each year because of these plastic bags. Innocent animals such as sea turtles take these bags to be food and consume bits of undigestible plastic. They can suffocate or starve
To get rid of these bags, many people burn them. They then emit toxic gases and bad odors, leading to serious health risks if inhaled. If burning bags get near skin, the plastic bonds with the skin causing horrible burns.
So what can we do to make a difference and reduce the effect of plastic bags? The answer is simple: Use alternatives! Carry with you a cloth bag, jute bag or paper bag. They are all biodegradable, so they’re better for the environment. Cloth bags are durable and can carry heavy loads. Paper bags require less energy to recycle them than plastic bags do.
Even if you find it difficult to switch to the suggested alternatives, you can reduce your consumption of plastic bags. The easiest way is to reuse the ones already in your home. Another way is to fill every bag full, cutting back on your usage. You can even find creative ways to reuse your plastic bags. For example, use them to carry wet clothes after swimming or as trash can liners.
I would recommend that supermarkets train their cashiers to reduce the use of plastic bags. This will reduce the use and wastage of plastic bags immensely.
Saying no to plastic bags is an easy step toward saving the planet. Each high quality reusable bag has the potential to eliminate an average of 1,000 plastic bags over its lifetime. You can also join the petition for an international ban on plastic shopping bags from Greenhouse Neutral Foundation (www.bydezin.com/greenhouseneutral/index.htm) and STOPlasticBags.
By signing this petition, you will have taken a simple step to reduce the ridi- culously high numbers of plastic bags tossed or lost around the world. Spreading the word to BAN the BAG will be an environmental achievement that you will be proud of. As Helen Keller once said, "I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."
Gandhi Memorial International School