- Politics and Social Issues
Are We Saving Earth by Banning Plastic Bag?
Despite all the shoutout from many environmentalists to reduce plastic bags consumptions, are you seeing any different in common daily plastic use? how do this effect you? No? is it important? is it not important?
Plastic plays significant roles in our environment, social, as well as economical dimension. Plastics consumption has wide range in our life, from packaging, transport packaging, to components in cars, building materials, electronics, furniture and new technology. We (still) need plastics.
Please note: I use two different terms here, don't mixed up plastic and plastic bag. Where I mention plastic it is plastic in general, and plastic bag is only a small part of plastic production. Plastic for all plastic products namely everything that has plastic component from product components such as housing for electronic products, component in cars, components in bulding materials,component in electronics, toys, packaging such as plastic bottle, plastic bags.
Now lets discuss about plastic bags and plastic bag bans
In public debate, plastic bag has a bad image due to irresponsible littering behavior in human societies. This littering caused health and pollution problems, especially in developing countries where the garbage and recycling systems are not getting a proper priority.
Is plastic degradable? it actually degrades very slowly over a long long time, thus generally it is non degradable. Since plastic is not degradable once ended in land or water, it will stay there, it will break to smaller pieces over a long time but it still remains. Thus irresponsible plastic littering is also seen as unnecessary waste and unsustainable use of plastic.
Lets see some facts on plastic production and recycling:
*very roughly estimated, source: polystyrene producer* To produce 1kg plastic we need 2kg oil equivalent for material and energy use during production.
Global plastic production in year 2006 is about 245 million tones. (Plastic Europe Market Research Group, 2007)
Is there any significant oil-saving by banning plastic bags? Most plastic production uses oil as raw materials. Oil is non renewable. But…
mostly used for fuel (50%), heating (32%), electricity (8%), chemicals (10%). Global oil consumption for plastic production is about 5%. **
Only five percent of oil consumption goes to plastic production! From overall plastic production! That means five percent of global oil consumption (=5% of 245 million tonnes used oil) goes for plastic packaging for food/drink, plastic packaging for transporation, plastic for electronic component, plastic for furniture, plastic for housing, plastic for tire production, etc.
And…, how many percent of this
5% accounts for plastic bags?
... how many percent of global oil consumption goes for plastic bags?
The answer is: less than 2% of total global oil consumption!
Some news or articles will claim that reducing plastic will reduce global oil consumption. I am not sure if this is a significant amount since we are talking about 2%.
Another thesis we can pull is: saving or banning plastic bag, is not going to reduce global plastic production because plastic bags is less than 2% from overal global plastic production!
Most plastic bags are made of polyethylene. Plastic recycling in city/ urban areas has proven to be difficult. Different than glass, paper and metals, which are easier to process mechanically, it is often labor intensive and cost intensive (not cost effective) to sort plastic waste.
For example, recycling Polystyrene
is rarely cost effective. However the overall plastic recycling systems
are problematic, not only of plastic bags, isn’t it? What I am saying is that maybe we should pay more attention on all plastic waste, instead of just blaming plastic bags.
Plastic recycling is improving and hopefully getting better and better. Many people confused the concept of down-cycling with real-recycling.
Recycling plastic bottles into plastic bag is called down-cycling. Thus, many plastic bags are down-cycled products. Another example of down-cycling is: one way plastic bottle that will be cycled into flanel jacket.
Recycling a plastic bottle into another new bottle with more or less the same quality, is called real re-cyling. PET systems claims to use this system. Even though PET is probably using new material (which is oil) to process the production of the new bottles, they claim at least not to have plastic waste.
Seeing from raw-material use: Down cycling is not so good, while real-recycling is good.
So when companies claim to "recycle" their plastic waste, I always question whether they mean down-cycling or re-cycling.
However, down-cycled plastic which cannot be down-cycled anymore will normally be burnt and will be converted into energy. In developing countries, that is not the case yet, they just burnt it in incinerators without using the energy from it.
C. Vs Bioplastic and Vs Paper Bag
Of course each product is promoting its own benefits and goodness. There are always advantage and disadvantages of each product.
- Plastics are generally lighter
than paper, thus easier and less costly to transport after production, means less fuel (which mean less CO2 waste, less oil used).Plastic production needs also less energy than paper.
bag is degrading much better than plastic bag, but it still costs a lot of
energy on production.(the energy used to produce bioplastic may come from oil as well)
- Paper production is one of the most polluting industries
since it involves lots of chemicals and uses relatively a lot of water and energy. Recycling paper needs also a lot of energy and chemicals because old papers have to be cleaned, de-ink, etc. Recycled papers need usually 60-80% paper waste, and the rest would be new materials. New materials in this case are often virgin pulp, originally from three.
In developing countries like China and India there is a new emerging trend of banning plastic ban. According to thedailygreen.com, China will save millions barrels oil every year though plastic bag ban (1 barrel=159Ltr). However, there are many debates stating this ban goes flimsy as enforcement is not strong enough.
So what is
the real problem with plastic bags? What is the solution?
Is it littering problem? then it is our awareness to be changed. Why making a ban on plastic bags when it turns to be flimsy enforcement anyway?
There are still millions of plastic produced each year. If plastic bag littering is the problem, we should work on the awareness problems. Banning plastic bag without strong law enforcement does not bring a lot. In China there is plastic bag ban since 2007, but people are still using plastic bags due to lack of enforcement.
Of course it is wrong to throw away plastic bag everywhere and it is annoying to see plastic bags floating on rivers or seas. I totally agree. Please don't throw plastic waste everywhere. Actually it should applies for all other waste that we human produce. It wont be nice to see a river or sea full of floating plastic bottles or metal waste such as cola cans, etc.
It is also very annoying to hear that: Millions tonnes of oils are spilled on the sea. Wildlife are endangered due to illegal huntings, illegal handlings or habitat destruction. Countries with nuclear powers. Developing countries are still smoking our earth with their CO-2 waste from their factories.
I am also annoyed when sometimes it heard as if plastic bag is causing more problems than other environmental problems such as what I mentioned above. Don't get me wrong I am just questioning the priority here. Do you get the impression too that to some countries it is more important to ban plastic bag instead of enforcing laws to reduce CO2?
Banning plastic bag, which could urge the use of other material such as paper, or bio plastic may also lead to another environmental problems. The paper comes from woods, and you cannot total 100% recycling paper. I worked in paper industry so believe me I know. To produce a new paper, depends on its grade, it is common to use up to 80% used paper, the rest will be a fresh raw material. It means if we use more papers, there will be more trees cut, so who knows whether it may lead to forest deforestation or not.
Attitude might be the answer for our earth problems. A sustainable use of everything. No unnecessary use of materials and energy.
Promote our earth!
Promote 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) for everything we use in life.(e.g. less fuel, less electricity, less paper, avoiding unnecessary use of plastic and
multiple use of reusable shopping bag, bring your plastic to recycler).
Promote that we can do more than just minimizing plastic bags. Promoting less oil consumption means less fuel which accounts for 50% oil consumption. It does not help our world if we succeed banning plastic bag but using unnecessary fuel. It is irony if there are environmentalists who fight against plastic bag and privately using cars instead of public transportation. Saving our world is more than just avoiding plastic bag!
Attitude might be the answer for our earth problems.
News: Plastic-bag ban full of holes
- Our view on the environment: Plastic-bag ban full of holes - Opinion - USATODAY.com
- Plastic Bag Wars Poised to Continue - Green Inc. Blog - NYTimes.com
In the wake of Seattle voters' decisive rejection of a proposed 20 cent fee on paper and plastic bags, the anti-bag coalition has vowed to press for an all-out ban on the bags.
Further Link on this Topic
Represents the interest of the plastics manufacturing industry in Western Europe at European level and promotes the benefits of plastics in every aspect