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Are We Saving Earth by Banning Plastic Bag?

Updated on January 1, 2011

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:

A. Production

*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…

Oil is 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?

** Source: Leben und Umwelt mit Kunstoffen, BASF*

... 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!

B. Recycling

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.
  • Bioplastic 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, 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 plastic packaging, 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.

Further Link on this Topic

Plastic Europe Home

Represents the interest of the plastics manufacturing industry in Western Europe at European level and promotes the benefits of plastics in every aspect


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    • profile image

      Radik Khabibullin 

      7 years ago

      Patent of the Russian Federation # 2373315

      Method for manufacturing paper packaging and refers to the pulp and paper production. At the bottom layer of paper pulp, distributed

      on an infinite grid, moving the paper machine, put in as a reinforcement material pre-steamed and flattened pressure blades of grass

      or straw. Then the blades of grass or straw covered with a second layer of paper pulp. Carry out dehydration and drying. The

      technical result is an expansion of the range of packaging papers with improved strength properties and environmental friendliness.

      The present invention relates to the field of pulp and paper industry.

      The main disadvantage of modern packaging materials is a problem of their disposal: plastic bags do not decompose almost in the

      external environment, and when they are burning a large amount of toxic products. Paper bags and boxes when they are certainly

      more environmentally friendly have little tensile strength, especially when wet, which limits their application.

      Known for wrapping paper, consisting of two paintings of the fibrous material based on paper, between which are placed longitudinal

      elements of the reinforcing layer made in the form of bundles, such as paper rope (SU 1201385, cl. V32V 29/02, publ., 1985).

      The closest analogue is a method for manufacturing packaging paper pulp by drawing on a grid paper machine to produce paper

      webs, which are dried, and then to one of the webs of paper is applied dose mikrovoskovogo backup layer composition and fed to

      the press, which is combined with another leaf paper ( SU 1714017, cl. D21N 27/10, publ. 1992).

      The technical result is an expansion of the range of packaging papers with improved durability and environmental friendliness.

      This technical result is achieved by a method of manufacturing paper packaging includes laying between two layers of paper pulp in

      the manufacture of paper in the paper machine pre-steamed and flattened pressure stems of grass or straw as a reinforcing material

      by placing them on the bottom layer distributed on an infinite grid, moving paper machine pulp and coating the stems of grass or

      straw, the second layer of paper pulp, followed by dehydration and drying.

      An example.

      The method of manufacture of packaging paper is as follows. Pulp is fed to an endless moving mesh paper machine. This layer of

      paper pulp over the full width mesh is placed pre-press flattened steamed stalks of grass or straw, which cover the second layer of

      paper pulp. To ensure the same strength of paper packaging in all directions, blades of grass or straw is placed in a one-way

      crossing. Pulp from the stems of grass or straw, dehydrated, first moving to the grid, and then between the cylindrical presses, after

      which it is dried.

      The proposed paper packaging has the following advantages:

      1) high tensile strength, commensurate with the strength of the beam straw;

      2) the ability of the package to pass through the air, which is important for the storage of fruits and vegetables;

      3) the application of safety (absence of toxic materials in the packaging, which can be transformed into food products);

      4) high environmental and efficiency in the utilization (can degrade in the environment in a natural way within a reasonable time

      without the formation of toxic compounds);

      5) low cost, especially when used as reinforcing additives agricultural waste.


      Method of manufacturing paper packaging, which includes laying between two layers of paper pulp in the manufacture of paper in the

      paper machine pre-steamed and flattened stalks of grass, or press the straw as a reinforcing material by placing them on the bottom

      layer distributed on an infinite grid, moving the paper machine pulp and coating the stems grass or straw, the second layer of paper

      pulp, followed by dehydration and drying.

    • profile image

      Tim Dunn 

      7 years ago

      Plastic is made out of the light naphtha portion of crude oil. The assumption that you can make whatever you want out of crude oil is quite mistaken. There isn't much else you can do with the naphtha portion of crude oil, except make solvents with it. Also, plastics can be made biodegradable in landfills, where they contribute to methane production - which is being tapped and used. In 2007, we were using enough methane from landfills to equate to removing 14 million automobiles from the road. See for more about biodegrading conventional plastics.

    • daviddwarren22 profile image


      8 years ago

      Ecofriendly hub! I appreciate it.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very good post, I was really searching for this topic, as I wanted this topic to understand completely and it is also very rare in internet, that is why it was very difficult to understand.

      Thank you for sharing this.


      PET Preforms

    • profile image

      PET preforms manufactrers 

      8 years ago

      I am really appreciate your post, this would really provide the great information .Thanks for sharing. PET preforms manufacturers

    • thefinalword profile image


      8 years ago

      Amen..I believe as you and recently wrote my Hub stating many of the thoughts you so ably already communicated. If we ban plastic bags out checkout we need to also ban them from the shelves because people will buy them. Biobags provide a viable alternative. I find the ban the bag thing suspicious. I guess I'm getting cynical in my old age. Good Hub by the way.

    • fucsia profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you for your information. I did not know that biodegradable bags are not a good choice: I use them occasionally.

      I am convinced that we can do much to save the environment, from small gestures, like a cloth bag to use for shopping!

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      Beautiful! Great hub!

    • bekaze profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Germany

      uva, thanks for dropping by and comment. plastic bag is still there, and I don't think it will be gone yet, since it is often the down-cycling product from many other plastic products.

      By the way, I like your profile and will drop by to your hubs next time. thanks.

    • Uva profile image

      Uva Be Dolezal 

      9 years ago from Washington State, searching for home town.

      yep - reduce, reuse and carry own shopping bags to the nearest store :) It's much easier to walk with heavy groceries in a cloth bag with nice handles. I just wonder how did we get here ? Why does it take several trillion plastic bags to make people write news stories ?

      thoughtful hub with lots of data, thanks


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