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Opinion: Cities should not ban plastic bags

Due to many recent environmental health movements against plastics, many people believe plastic bags are detrimental to the planet’s health. Increased awareness of plastic’s harm to the world has led to an increased usage of cotton and paper bags. However, the question lies in whether these alternatives are better than plastic bags. Although plastic bags…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/briianchenn/" target="_self">Brian Chen</a>

Brian Chen

July 19, 2021

Due to many recent environmental health movements against plastics, many people believe plastic bags are detrimental to the planet’s health. Increased awareness of plastic’s harm to the world has led to an increased usage of cotton and paper bags.

However, the question lies in whether these alternatives are better than plastic bags. Although plastic bags seem to be generating a considerable carbon footprint on the planet and contaminating our oceans, cities should not ban plastic bags since the benefits of plastic bag use far outweigh current alternatives. Plastic bags are simply practical, sanitary, and produce far less pollution. 

Despite plastic bags being the most convenient and beneficial option, the damage they bring is undeniably immense. An article published by Sustainability Times reveals the plastic bag’s carbon footprint is enormous due to its high demand and delivery process.

Drilling limited fossil fuels to create these ubiquitous bags takes a toll on the planet, creates many harmful greenhouse gases, and uses an unsustainable resource. This knowledge will alarm environmentalists because it exposes the stresses plastic bags place on our planet, such as the severe pollution plastic bags inflict on the world. 

Another finding by National Geographic documents a monstrosity of non-degradable plastic debris floating in the ocean named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This scar of plastic’s damage to our marine habitat gives us an insight into our possible future. Likewise, the University of Georgia College of Engineering affirms that nearly eight million tons of plastic fill the ocean every year.

Readers can infer that continuing down the path of extensive plastic usage will further injure marine life, and they are correct. Therefore, believing plastic bags are damaging to nature is clear with this given knowledge. 

Nevertheless, the damage caused by plastic bags is minimal compared to its other options. According to National Geographic, a supposedly better replacement, a paper bag, generates four times the amount of carbon emissions than plastic bags and would only be more beneficial to the environment if reused around 43 times; due to paper bags’ low durability, this rarely occurs.

As reported by the New York Times, cotton totes, another popular alternative, causes even more harm to the environment, resulting in a carbon footprint of 327 plastic bags per tote while requiring more energy, land, fertilizer, and pesticides to operate than any other. Paper bags and cotton totes have detrimental side effects contrary to common belief, making plastic bags the best choice, although plastic bags still cause their fair share of pollution. 

Plastic bags also are not involved in the majority of plastic environmental damage. Since the California plastic bag ban, research by the Reason Foundation showed that they constitute only 0.4% of all municipal waste, meaning the ban had virtually no effect on reducing the amount of waste produced by cities.

A LoveToKnow article written by an ecologist warns that worse problems, such as land pollution, need more societal care since it causes long-lasting negative impacts that need immediate attention. With the presented evidence, one can conclude that cities need to redirect effort to fixing the massive municipal waste problems instead of banning the minuscule 0.4% of plastic bags. 

In addition to plastic bags’ minimal environmental contamination, they are much more sanitary than reusable bags. The Reason Foundation states that reusing bags in warmer months causes bacteria growth, leading to potential food contamination.

Besides, in another study directed by the University of Arizona, “51% of all reusable bags contain coliform bacteria, and 12% have E. coli, both foodborne illnesses.” With reusable bags covered with repugnant bacteria, plastic bags are much better at preventing food contamination since they are single-use. 

Some might suggest washing the reusable bags, but research exhibits that $1.5 billion would be exhausted if the 12.4 million Californian households rinsed their bags for a swift five minutes every week, recorded by the Reason Foundation.

However, another study conducted by the University of Arizona found that 97% of reusable bag users never washed their bags, allowing many diseases to spread.

According to the evidence, it is evident that reusable bags contain various bacteria that are harmful to the human body and frequently go unwashed, foreshadowing many unnecessary sicknesses. 

Lastly, most people do not reuse bags enough to mitigate environmental damage, refuting the belief that reusable bags are better than plastic bags. For example, when Austin, Texas, banned plastic bags in 2013, an assessment by the city found that people were “throwing away heavy-duty reusable bags at an unprecedented rate.”

Like plastic bags, reusable bags’ growing availability causes consumers to view reusable bags as expendable, which imposes more harm to the environment than before, as reported by The Atlantic. Enforcing plastic bag bans and the swelling demand for tote packs cause bags that are the equivalent of 327 plastic bags to be carelessly trashed due to their ubiquity, destroying our environment much more than plastic bags. 

Another report by the United Nations Environmental Program states that “recycling reusable bags can be complicated, time-intensive, and costly as they often require different processes from those locally available. Consequently, in many cases, reusable bags are not recycled.”

A reusable bag company, GoGreenBags, warns that only half of the reusable bags are recyclable, and “putting an old reusable bag into the wrong recycling system can contaminate an entire batch of material for recycling,” meaning landfills bombarded with more trash.

With reusable bags being unrecyclable, having the damage of more than hundreds of plastic bags, and discarded at a similar rate to plastic bags when cities enforce plastic bag bans, it is clear that plastic bags are more beneficial and practical than reusable totes. 

A plastic bag ban might seem reasonable until research compares plastic bags to their alternatives, revealing that plastic’s carbon footprint is significantly better than its competitors: paper and reusable bags. Paper bags have low durability and cause more environmental harm than plastic bags to produce, making them the worst replacement.

Meanwhile, cotton totes cause extreme harm to natural habitats, and consumers must use them a whopping number of times to negate the damage dealt. Reusable bags also pose critical health concerns since they are rarely washed and often carry foodborne diseases. 

According to results from the previous plastic bag bans, these bans usually lead to a rise in squandered reusable bags. Since plastic bags contribute to less than 1% of public waste, attention should be spent on more impactful solutions. Therefore, instead of blindly banning plastic bags in the hope of saving the environment, cities must understand the consequences the alternatives bring and focus on more significant environmental crises.

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