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Why are plastic bags bad for the environment?

Updated on July 18, 2012
Imogen French profile image

Imogen is from West Dorset, in the UK. She works in publishing and writes mainly about the environment, gardening, and vegetarian food.


Wall-E - Disney/Pixar film. A cautionary tale for the human race!

We are often asked to reduce the amount of plastic bags that we use, supermarkets now actively encourage you to bring your own reusable bags, and many shops have switched to biodegradable or paper carriers. You may have wondered what all the fuss is about - surely, once they've been used, thrown in the bin and sent off to landfill they'll break down eventually, won't they?

It is not just a question of landfill, however. True, there is a problem with finding enough room to dump all the rubbish we produce in our increasingly throwaway society, and there's going to come a time when we simply run out of space. Recycling is addressing this issue, and many people are now making an effort to recycle what they can - glass, paper and tins are all good to recycle as it makes best use of the resources, is economically viable, and cuts down on landfill. Plastic can be recycled but has proved to be uneconomic for many local authorities, and recycling facilities are not always available.

The problem with plastic is its persistence, it simply doesn't break down properly. Much plastic waste is blown or washed into the sea, where it can remain for a very long time. It may break down into smaller bits, but there is an awful lot of it out there, and is proving to be an environmental disaster for many sea creatures who ingest it and choke or suffer ill health because of it.

In the Pacific Ocean there is a plastic "island" known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that is estimated to be as large as the USA! (1) For several decades now, plastic waste has been dumped into the sea and has been swirled into a giant mass by the currents in the Pacific - it is both ugly and dangerous.

One of the major threats to wildlife are plastic bags floating around in the water. Sea turtles mistake them for jellyfish, an important part of their diet, and turtles are often found washed up dead on the beach, with plastic bags tangled in their intestines. Many other sea creatures are also being affected by this horrible pollution in their ecosystem. Post-mortems carried out on large cetaceans that have been washed up on beaches have also revealed large quantities of plastic pieces in their stomachs.

What can you do?

It's quite simple, really:

  • Remember next time you go shopping to take reusable bags with you.
  • When the checkout operator says "do you need a bag with that?" - just say "no thankyou".
  • Try to buy loose foods, or those that minimise plastic packaging.
  • Whenever you are out in the countryside or on the beach, pick up any plastic waste that is lying around and put it safely in a bin - or incinerate it.
  • Join in with a local beach clean. In the UK there are many organised by members of the Marine Conservation Society. (2)

References and further reading


(2) The Marine Conservation Society: see


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    • LeslieOutlaw profile image

      Leslie 4 years ago from South Carolina

      Great hub. Thanks for sharing. Sometimes we need reminders like these to help maintain an awareness of the environment. Little things like this is how we can all do our part to keep it safe.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Thanks for the reminders about how terrible plastic bags are. I make an effort to return mine to the supermarket. Great topic to choose! I will share and all votes ++

    • livingsta profile image

      livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      A very important topic discussed here. Thank you for writing this to create awareness. Voted up and sharing!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 6 years ago from California

      When I first saw a picture of this plastic island, I was shocked. It really is awful. Thank you for bringing this issue back into my brainpan--and welcome to Hubpages if I haven't welcomed you already--

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      These truly are the bane of our existence... and the life and death of many of the creatures who encounter them. A well written hub that reminds!

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 6 years ago from United States

      informative hub :)

      this is one planet we have and we ought to preserve it.

      voted up!

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Great article, Imogen. I am a big advocate for recycling and conservation. I have my own shopping bags and carry them where ever I go. Some store clerks however are not too friendly to this idea and have even given me grief since it takes them out of their routine to use my bags. I do it anyway.

    • Angelique Newman profile image

      Angelique Newman 6 years ago from Canada

      Welcome to Hubpages Imogen French!

      You've written an excellent article on plastic bags and the importance of ridding it from our environment; it's an issue that's close to my heart. Thanks for sharing :)

    • lisa42 profile image

      lisa42 6 years ago from Sacramento

      Good hub on an important topic!

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 6 years ago from Western Australia

      Plastic is bad for environment and we should stop using it unfortunately it is not in our economic interests to get rid of it, so what are we going to do, you can guess....

    • MobyWho profile image

      MobyWho 6 years ago from Burlington VT

      Good thought! Thanks.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 6 years ago from Southwest England

      Maybe you could check your supermarket for biodegradable refuse bags

    • MobyWho profile image

      MobyWho 6 years ago from Burlington VT

      As one who has lost a marine engine to a plastic bag (they suck up nicely), you'd think I wouldn't use them. But...we live in a 65+ apartment and we can't throw out garbage unless it's tied up in - guess what? - a plastic bag. So at least I do reuse them. *guilt*

      Every little bit does help though. Thanks for a great reminder.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 6 years ago from Southwest England

      thanks for all your comments. That jellyfish is brilliant, retired06, good luck with your mission! I'm glad so many people have responded so positively to this issue, it has been important to me since I first volunteered to organise beach-cleans at my local beach, and I realised just how much plastic there is floating around in the sea.

    • retired06 profile image

      Leona J Atkinson 6 years ago from Oregon, USA

      Love your article. I just wrote a similar one after I visited the Washed Ashore Project that was on display at my local community college. The Washed Ashore Project is giant sculptures made from garbage that has been washed ashore from the sea. Each sculpture is of a sea creature or something that is damaged because of plastic. The one that most caught my eye was a giant jellyfish made from plastic bags. There were also sculptures of a giant sea turtle and fish. My article was published by Oregon Women's Report. You can read it at this link:

      and see the picture I took of the giant jellyfish made from plastic bags. Also there is a link to the Washed Ashore Project. My hope is to inspire everyone to use cloth bags instead of plastic bags and in that way we might save a giant sea turtle's life. Thank you!

    • profile image

      serendipitypalace 6 years ago

      The supermarkets usually have a plastic bag recycle bin by the bottle/can deposit machines.

    • Green Art profile image

      Green Art 6 years ago

      This is a well written hub about the impact plastic bags have on the environment and the creatures that live on this planet. I recycle plastic bags when I get them, but I need to just bring my own cloth version to the store to avoid bringing them home at all. Thanks for getting me to make a simple change for the better. Voted UP and useful:)

    • profile image

      Sulabha Dhavalikar---' eve's view' 6 years ago

      A very useful article.

      I also make it a point to carry my own shopping bag. But then, what do I do with the plastics that I get when I buy pulses or other such items? For they always come packed in plastic or polythene. And then,disposing them off becomes a problem. A guideline here would help.

    • serendipitypalace profile image

      serendipitypalace 6 years ago

      More consumers are bringing in their own cloth bags to grocery and department stores. If everyone did this, it would definitely help. I can smell the oil used in the plastic, not good. Thank you for the information.

    • aravindb1982 profile image

      Aravind Balasubramanya 6 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      The Pacific Garbage island is an extreme. There are so many rivers in India getting choked to death due to this plastic menace.Recycling is a symptomatic remedy. With deep thought, the only solution is 'decycling'! (Taking plastic out of circulation)

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 6 years ago from Southwest England

      thanks, punacoast. I agree a ban is the best way - there are plenty of alternatives

    • punacoast profile image

      Viet Doan 6 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Plastic bags are the most dangerous debris in the ocean. Here in Hawaii the government has passed law to ban the use of plastic bags on Maui and Kauai islands. They need to do the same on the Big Island!

      Excellent hub Imogen French!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      This is an important topic to be conscious about!

      Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. Do visit this hub and read all about it: