The Impact or Effects of Plastic Bags on the Environment

Picture of a plastic bag

Regardless of where you live or what you do, plastic bags have become an important part of our lives making them almost indispensable for the modern society.

They are used for waste disposal, bringing groceries from the market and are a very handy utility for us. But the issue with plastic bags is that if they are not properly disposed of then they can turn out to be pretty dangerous for the environment.

This is a global issue which is being faced throughout the world affecting nature, wildlife, and also other essential components that we depend on.

1. Manufacturing Impact of Plastic Bags (Emissions)

The production of plastic bags is very energy-dependent and not very environment friendly process to begin with.

Plastic bags are made of plastic, and where does the plastic come from?  Well plastic is derived from petroleum, one of the most commonly used fossil fuels and non-renewable energy resources on the planet. Most of the petroleum is used to make plastic and the conversion of plastic into plastic bags of various shapes, size and color requires more energy. This energy comes from either non-renewable energy resources or renewable energy resources but mostly from non-renewable energy resources such as fossil fuels.

The problem with making plastic from oil is that; Oil is a non-renewable energy source and if it is not used properly or over-exploited as is done today; it will lead to oil becoming extinct. You can learn more about why oil is a non-renewable resource as well!

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The more concerning issue is that the burning of oil to produce plastic has a huge greenhouse effect. Oil leads to the evolution of carbon dioxide, one of the most common greenhouse gases which are massively affecting the climate. If this is not contained we may see the full wrath of climate change unfold causing melting of glaciers, storms, wildfires, droughts and more.

Know more: How Plastic Bags are made?

2. Harm to Wildlife

The animals can be severely affected from the plastic bags which are not disposed properly and can make way into land and aquatic habitats.

The animals may feed on them and potentially die due to the presence of toxic chemicals which are found in plastic. Plastic causes intestinal obstruction leading to a slow and painful death of these animals. The way this happens is that these animals eat plastic, leading to intestinal obstruction. This makes them starve. They try to over-eat but all they get to eat is plastic! This leads to further intestinal obstruction and at some point, death.

A large amount of cows die, due to them inadvertently eating plastic bags. These bags may be blown into their way on farmlands and be eaten by animals when grazing. It is reported that cows may die of eating up to 50 plastic bags as they might mistake it for a potential source of food.

Some animal’s heads might get caught up in the plastic bags making them susceptible to death via asphyxiation/suffocation.

3. Clogging up Sewage Systems

Water runoff may drag along plastic bags with them and these plastic bags may ultimately end up in the city’s sewage system.

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These plastic bags may then accumulate in the sewage pipes along with other debris potentially blocking these pipes. As the pipes start choking, water is no longer able to move through due to the obstruction being created by these plastic bags. This may lead to the bursting up of pipes and the accumulation of water onto the roads as they cannot be properly drained. This leads to water potentially damaging roads and buildings and consequently allowing a lot of pollutants to leak and pollute the environment in the process.

Extensive maintenance must be carried out to remove the plastic bags from the sewage system which are blocking the pipe so that proper drainage of sewage water can take place. People must also be taught not to throw these plastic bags carelessly in the first place and that they must follow proper disposal methods of plastic so that this may never occur.

4. Pollution of Oceans (Water Pollution)

Nearly 13 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans. These plastic bags then release toxic chemicals which may cause various health concerns, but the most affected by this pollution are the marine animals.

Marine animals, just like land animals may mistakenly eat plastic bags as a potential source of food. The most common victim of this is the Turtle which mistakes plastic bags for Jellyfish which is the most common source of food for Turtles. This leads to obstruction of the digestive tract as they cannot break down the plastic bags and eventually die. 100 million marine animals die due to mistaking plastic as a source of food and consuming it.

We must also be cautious because we consume fish which may have eaten plastic; this may cause serious health issues for us as well.

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5. Pollution on Land

Plastic is a large contributor to land pollution. They can be seen blowing on roads and streets and can get into trees, telephone lines, electrical poles and cars, causing distress.

Most of the plastic properly disposed by governments and sent to landfills but the conventional plastic being used takes almost 400 years to degrade. This makes them a liability taking up large spaces which can be utilized for something else, like growing trees.

6. Effect on Plants

Plastic bags, similar to animals also affect plants. Plastic bags may get entangled with plants preventing them from getting adequate sunlight and nutrition; thus preventing them from carrying out photosynthesis and respiration. This may eventually lead the plant towards death due to loss of metabolic processes.

Plastic bags upon decomposing may release various toxic chemicals into the soil damaging it. This may also lead to the plants dying out and making the soil infertile for any future plant growth.

7. Aesthetics

No doubt wherever plastic bags are not properly disposed, there is severe loss of beauty and essence in that area.

Although pollution is the bigger issue here, aesthetics have a lot to do with country’s economy, culture and health. These all are significantly affected when plastic bags are not properly disposed. They may alter nature, environment, and habitat and as previously mentioned, affect the urban areas along with wildlife and plants.

I can’t even begin to count the number of pristine tourist locations which have been ruined due to immense non-biodegradable plastic trash thrown by tourists.

Therefore, it is very important for us to properly dispose plastic bags and all related products of plastic so they may not cause harm to our planet. We must also take an initiative towards more recycling of plastic and move away from the high energy and polluting process of plastic manufacturing.

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