Do Plastic Bag Bans Work? Let’s See What The Science Says

Sea turtle swimming underwater with environmental message: Do plastic bag bans work

Research Determines If Bag Bans are Effective

Plastic bag bans can be a divisive topic. Some people feel plastic bag bans are necessary to combat litter and the resulting environmental impact. Others argue plastic bag bans are unnecessary and increased awareness and recycling should be enough to address litter problems. Now science has an answer to the question, do plastic bag bans work?

Growth of a Movement

Plastic bag bans are becoming more and more common. As cities, counties, states and countries pass plastic bag bans they inspire others to follow their lead. In the early 2000’s a few cities in the U.S. considered bans and that started a movement throughout the country.  More municipalities are joining this impactful movement every week.

Support for Plastic Bag Bans

Although the individual reasons may vary, ultimately the main reason behind plastic bag bans is to stop and potentially reverse the negative environmental impacts of disposable plastic bags. Single-use plastic bags are made using nonrenewable resources, including natural gas and petroleum. While these materials are available in abundance today, this will not always be the case. Some argue it is best to start finding alternatives now.

Disposable plastic bags can be recycled; however, recycling rates are very low. Many recycling facilities refuse to accept these thin film bags, because they are difficult to process. Consumers often are unaware how to dispose of the disposable bags they accumulate, so the bags tend to end up in the trash or as litter. When discarded, plastic bags can damage ecosystems and are a threat to animals who may eat or become tangled in the bags. To make matters worse, plastic never fully breaks down and can enter our food chain.

Opposing Viewpoint

Debate about the effectiveness of plastic bag bans has been around since the beginning of the movement. Concern that these bags are using up nonrenewable resources are countered with arguments that there are still plenty of these materials to go around. Low recycling rates are chalked up to simply poor outreach and consumer education.

Analyzing the Data

With 10 plus years of plastic bag bans in place, there is finally enough results to begin to understand the impact of plastic bag bans. The UK government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) has been collecting data regarding litter for a couple decades. They are now able to assess the kind of impact plastic bag bans and fees have caused.

Thomas Maes, Marine Litter Scientist at CEFAS, explained, “We observed sharp declines in the percentage of plastic bags as captured by fishing nets trawling the seafloor around the UK compared to 2010 and this research suggests that by working together we can reduce, reuse and recycle to tackle the marine litter problem.”

Do Your Part

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