Polythene bags have made life more convenient but have also harmed the environment through production and disposal. The examination of plastic product issues necessitates a whole life cycle approach. So far, the methods used to assess and deal with the effects of plastic bags have needed to be expanded and more. Understanding all of the hazardous consequences of plastic on human health is necessary to make a sensible judgment about how to reduce the danger.
There are significant and intricate effects on human health at every stage of the plastic life cycle, from oil and gas field wellheads to oil refineries, from store shelves to bodies, from rubbish disposal to the ongoing effects of microplastics in the air, water, and soil. Several phases of this life cycle are presented to people everywhere. The fossil raw materials used to make plastics will emit harmful compounds during extraction and transportation into the air and water, including those known to cause illnesses and immune system damage.
The shopkeeper will typically pack your purchases, such as food or clothing, in a shopping bag for you when you make a purchase. You’ll drop the grocery bag in the outside litter when you return. The most frequent method that plastic bags wind up endangering the ecosystem is this way.
While plastic bags are beneficial in our daily lives, and we often feel we can’t live without them, they also significantly contribute to environmental pollution, animal fatalities, risks to human health, and other adverse effects.
1. Animals’ deaths
Every year, over 100,000 animals are killed by plastic bags. Several animals confuse plastic bags for food, including whales, dolphins, turtles, penguins, and dolphins.
For instance, marine turtles mistake jellyfish for floating plastic shopping bags. Due in part to their overconsumption of plastics, these sea turtles are in danger of extinction. Plastic cannot be fully digested. Thus it will build up in the animal’s stomach and cause death. Even worse, the ingested plastics remain even when the dead animal decomposes. That implies another animal could consume it and eventually experience the same effects.
2. Plastic bags don’t decompose
The decomposition of plastic can take up to 2000 years. In actuality, the environment is still contaminated by all of the plastic ever produced. That implies that you won’t live long enough to witness the breakdown of plastic.
3. Petroleum-based materials are used to make plastic bags
The world’s oil supplies must be replenished by 60 million to 100 million barrels yearly to produce plastic. As a result, plastic plays a significant role in the depletion of this vital resource, which drives up the cost of petroleum products every day.
4. Hazardous chemicals are used in plastic food storage containers
According to studies, eating or heating food in plastic bags contributes to the development of ulcers, asthma, obesity, and several malignancies. This is explained by the fact that plastic bags contain some compounds that, when heated, will combine with the food. The chemical Bisphenol-A is one of these (BPA).
BPA contributes to the flexibility and toughness of a plastic. Although it increases the practicality of plastic for everyday use, this chemical has significant health hazards, particularly when it comes into contact with food. High dosages of BPA have the potential to harm reproductive development and functions, according to studies on animals. Several major health problems, including diabetes, liver damage, and heart disease, have been linked to high levels of BPA in the body, according to studies. The brain may suffer negative consequences from this substance.
5. Plastic production releases harmful substances
Many neurotoxic, cancer-causing, and hormone-disrupting substances can be found in plastic bags. Several of these substances are also discharged as waste from the manufacture of plastic. After being released, they eventually enter our ecosystem due to land, water, and air contamination.
6. Large-scale plastic bag accumulations obstruct drainage systems
One of the most frequent reasons for drainage system obstruction is the buildup of plastic bags. This issue significantly impacts developing nations.
The floods that swept over Bangladesh roughly 20 years ago are a good illustration of this effect. Drainage systems were severely clogged, which was partially caused to plastic shopping bags.
7. Groundwater becomes contaminated by plastic bags
The toxins released by the plastic bags at the dumpsite typically sink into the ground and end up in the groundwater reservoirs. The harmful effects of plastics would then be transferred from the earth to our bodies through the food and drink we consume, including plants.
Many of us mistakenly think drinking groundwater is safe, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Hence, only drink groundwater if groundwater has been prepared for human consumption. You will consume a lot of hazardous stuff if you don’t.
8. The natural food chain is disrupted by plastic pollution
Plastic-related pollution, such as those plastic bags, interferes with the natural feeding order. All organisms in the food chain, from giant terrestrial animals to microscopic plankton, are affected negatively by their destructive impacts. When they consume plastic toxins, these creatures may experience direct effects from plastic. They may also be indirectly impacted if they are left without food after plastics have killed species lower in the food chain.
What are the alternatives to plastic bags?
1. Paper bags
Polyethylene- or ethylene-based bags make the bulk of plastic bags. Because they are created from non-renewable petroleum resources and hazardous chemicals and take thousands of years to decompose, plastic bags are bad for the environment. Paper bags can be recycled up to six times and can be used to create a range of different paper goods. Also, most paper bag waste degrades in less than six months and, in most circumstances, turns into fertile vegetation waste. The paper does not release highly harmful and dangerous fumes into the atmosphere during recycling as plastic does. Today, paper bags are more often associated with fashion. Paper bags are popular because they are light, simple to clean, and can hold stuff for a long time.
2. Jute bags
Jute bags are made of biodegradable material, primarily cellulose, a more environmentally responsible alternative to plastic bags. In contrast to synthetics, the production of jute bags is straightforward. It does not use toxic chemicals or harmful by-products that result from their use, which helps to protect the environment and maintain ecological balance. The raw materials for jute bags are obtained from lush, green jute plants, which contribute to environmental protection and ecological balance by supplying the atmosphere with much-needed oxygen. Jute bags are compostable and biodegradable and come in a number of shapes. Also, they have no adverse effects on agriculture or the environment. Jute bags are a great environmentally friendly and compostable alternative to plastic bags.
3. Other Biodegradable bags
Bacteria can now break down biodegradable plastics, chewed up, and convert them into biomass, water, and CO2 instead of being stable for hundreds of years, as was previously the case. People have only recently begun to use plastics. This biodegradable plastic bag, produced by plastic companies, poses less risk to the environment and the land. Both non-biodegradable and biodegradable plastic bags contain hazardous chemicals that harm the environment. The most environmentally friendly biodegradable plastic now available is PLA (polylactic acid).
Plastic bags are undeniably very convenient for human production and living, so it is vital to identify alternatives that are less harmful to the environment and human life throughout their life cycles. Paper bags, jute bags, and other biodegradable bags have mostly replaced plastic bags because they have drawbacks such as poor recycling and difficulty degrading. You can recycle paper bags up to six times. Because jute bags comprise cellulose, which degrades over time, they are more environmentally friendly. Creating more biodegradable plastics has advanced the use of plastics to a new level. Biodegradable plastics can now be broken down by bacteria that chew them up and turn them into biomass, water, and carbon dioxide. As a result, it substantially resolves the issue of typical plastic bags’ lengthy 100-year deterioration cycle and the severe environmental damage it causes.