Plastic shopping and delivery bags have been proven to do enormous damage to the environment. The amount of waste that they generate is simply staggering. When these sorts of bags were the preferred method of bagging goods, landfills were filled with them. Unfortunately, the problem was not only landfills. Plastic bags pinned up against fences by the wind, floated offshore and in lakes, and clogged in trees were once a common sight.
Not only is this unsightly, but there is also a more insidious problem when it comes to plastic bags. Studies have revealed that the common plastic bag takes approximately 1,000 years to biodegrade. However, that is not the end of the story of the plastic bag. Plastic bags don't actually biodegrade - they break down into ever smaller pieces due to the action of sunlight. This is known as photo-degrading. The result is micro-plastics that absorb various toxins and continue to poison the environment.
Even though plastic delivery bags are now being legislated out of production, the problem remains enormous. In the United States, consumers use approximately 100 billion plastic bags per year. It is estimated that each and every consumer in the country will go through about 365 plastic bags each year. Research indicates that even as far back as 2015, 87% of these plastic bags were not recycled. The problem may be getting better - but it is very far from disappearing. In 2018, an international coastal cleanup gathered 1.9 million plastic bags from beaches across the globe.
The oceans of the planet are filled to the brim with plastic waste, including millions of plastic delivery bags. It is estimated that 34% of Loggerhead turtles die due to ingesting floating plastic bags. A plastic grocery bag looks very similar to a jellyfish - the Loggerhead's main source of food.
Much of the plastic that lands up in the ocean comes from the land. About 20% is the result of fishing and other marine activity (such as the loss of fishing nets). These plastics photodegrade into ever smaller pieces. One of the results of this pollution has been the formation of what is known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). The plastics that are trapped in this area (due to a vortex-type current) are estimated to weigh around 2.7 million metric tons.
The amount of plastic in the GPGP is growing. Researchers estimate that this growth has been 10% each and every year since 1945.
Not only are the microplastics unsightly, but they can affect marine life that ingests them. And further up the food chain, these microplastics accumulate in the bodies of predators. Many of these predators are targets for fishing activity (tuna anyone?). Even smaller fish are harvested in huge numbers for use in fishmeal - and those microplastics then start their journey towards the dinner table. The inevitable result is that human beings are today ingesting more in more of these tiny plastic particles.
Research is ongoing about the effects that microplastics can have on human health. However, initial studies indicate that they may be responsible for adverse health outcomes such as oxidative stress, neurotoxicity, immune system disruption, and cytotoxicity. The chemical additives that are used in the manufacture of plastic delivery bags (and other plastic goods) are known as endocrine disruptors. These have been associated with negative health effects, including cancer and birth defects and cancers. As mentioned, research is ongoing - however, logic would dictate that these sorts of chemical additives that are present in microplastics are not doing humans any good.
So, there are ample reasons that consumers should be turning to reusable delivery bags. But pollution and toxicity issues aside there are many other advantages to the use of reusable bags.
Firstly, they are by and large far sturdier than plastic bags, they are therefore less likely to break and leave the consumer gathering groceries from the ground or floor. Using materials such as cotton, or even hemp for the manufacture of these reusable bags makes them ergonomically friendly. Which consumer has not experienced the discomfort of having the handle of a plastic shopping or delivery bag cutting into their fingers? Using bags made from natural materials makes the shopping experience that much more pleasant.
Reusable and eco-friendly delivery bags also simply take up less room. they can easily be folded and the dreaded overflowing kitchen drawer filled with plastic bags can be avoided. The accepted wisdom is to reuse plastic bags, but if most consumers are honest with themselves they will admit that they very rarely reuse these bags.
The fact that plastic bags also add to the cost of goods is one that should also be taken into account. If everyone were to switch to reusable bags the retailers could pass on the cost savings achievable from not having to source ever-increasing numbers of plastic bags.
Given these facts, it is obvious that reusable bags are a far more sustainable option for both consumers and businesses. The fact that the environment will benefit is also a factor in simply saying no to the plastic bag option.