Many States across the United States have implemented or are planning to implement a plastic bag ban to reduce the amount of single-use plastics that end up in landfill and encourage consumers to consider reusable or bioplastics in their place.
In the United States, eight States have currently banned single-use plastic bags, these include: California, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, Maine and Vermont. All States passed legislation to ban plastic bags in stores.
Why Ban Plastic Bags?
Plastic bags are rising in their status as a negative item to use, due to their contribution to not only landfill but also their risk to wildlife and the environment overall. Over the decades, humans have realized the toxicity and issues that plastic bags have for health, wildlife and environment.
This has led to many States and countries looking to ban single-use plastic bags or already banning them. Some even charge a fee now for you to purchase them at the store – this helps people be more mindful and consider their alternatives.
Banning plastics and/or switching to plastic alternatives will reduce your environmental footprint. A typical plastic bag can take centuries to thousands of years to break down in landfill and so biodegradable or compostable plastic reduces this time vastly. These bioplastics are rising in popularity due to them being able to break down more rapidly.
Some other benefits of banning plastic and switching to biobased include:
- Reduces contributions to landfill.
- Does not leach or leave behind toxic chemicals.
- Less greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing.
- Lower water and energy consumption during manufacturing.
- Safe for humans, animals, wildlife and the environment.
- Provide great fertilizer when composted correctly.
What Is Plastic Made From?
Plastic is synthetic or biobased: synthetic (traditional) plastic is derived from crude oil, gas or coal – natural resources that are being rapidly mined for plastics. Much of the plastic around us is synthetic due to how easy it is to mine and manufacture.
The manufacturing process is also much cheaper due to the large amounts of plastic being created. The three steps to manufacture plastic are:
- Raw materials such as crude oil, natural gas or plants are refined into ethane and propane.
- These two materials and their resulting material are treated with heat then ‘cracked’ which ends up as ethylene and propylene.
- These resulting materials are combined to create different types of plastics for different uses.
The manufacturing process will differ based on type of plastic and its use, with many plastic products going through molding or having dye inserted before they are finished. Various manufacturing processes have been developed over the years to cover a wide range of applications, types of plastic and uses.
The process that heats and cools plastic also produces ‘thermoplastics’ which can then be heated and cooled again without degrading. By heating plastic, the item is softened and moldable which means it can be shaped any way it’s needed or wanted. Manufacturers can then melt and recast/mold almost immediately over many times.
Why Is Plastic So Bad?
There are so many reasons plastic is bad but the highlights are landfill contribution, impact on the environment, risk to wildlife and marine life and risk to humans in some cases. This is why consumers are looking for easy alternatives.
Here are some key reasons plastics are being recognised as bad options, particularly for single-use items:
- Plastic can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to decompose or break down in any environment, including landfill.
- When plastic decomposes, it breaks down into small pieces that may not be visible to the naked eye, however, these small pieces of plastic will never fully decompose and will potentially contaminate water, soil and air.
- Plastic can harm wildlife as they can get caught up in plastic – on land and in the ocean – or they can consume small pieces of plastic which will kill them either via choking or other health consequences or injury.
- The manufacturing process of plastic uses high amounts of electricity and water, while releasing large amounts of greenhouse gasses.
- Plastic products have been found to be toxic to humans. This is due to the chemicals added to plastics and then absorbed by humans, such as from water or other bottles. Microplastics entering the human body through ingestion or inhalation can also be toxic.
- There have also been studies shown that certain chemicals found in plastic can leach out of the plastic and into food and beverages. This has been linked to health problems such as reduced fertility, cancers or metabolic disorders.
What Are Plastic Bag Alternatives?
With all the negative commentary about plastic, what are the alternatives? The great news is, there are a plethora of plastic alternatives, particularly for single-use items such as bags. Of course, not all plastic products can currently be replaced, but there are great alternatives for many everyday items.
- Reusable items such as fabric, metal, glass, bamboo
What Are Bioplastics?
Bioplastics are a range of plastic alternatives made from renewable sources such as organic materials. These plastics are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than traditional plastics. They are currently more expensive to manufacture as they aren’t as widely used as traditional plastic yet.
Bioplastics are considered safer for the environment from their manufacturing process which uses less resources and produces lower emissions, through to their ability to be disposed of and return to natural matter.
These plastics are made from renewable materials such as corn starch, tapioca starch and others. This means that when they are disposed of correctly, they reduce waste. They are able to be either quickly broken down (when it comes to landfill disposal) or composted back into the earth.
We can class compostable, PLA (polylactic acid) and biodegradable as the top three bioplastics on the market.
Benefits Of Plastic Bag Alternatives?
Bioplastics that are made from raw materials – such as compostable and PLA, can be composted either in a home composter or industrial composting facility and returned to their natural form. The manufacturing process is overall more sustainable and environmentally friendly than that of traditional plastics as no toxic fumes are released and it uses less electricity and water.
When disposed of correctly, all three options – compostable, PLA and biodegradable – can take centuries off the time it takes traditional plastic to break down. However, biodegradable plastics can leave behind toxic chemicals when decomposing and compostable plastics do not. Biodegradable also can’t be placed in compost or worm farms.
However, if you don’t dispose of compostable plastic correctly and drop it in landfill, it will take a long time to decompose like traditional plastic. There are biodegradable plastics that, unlike, compostable, are able to decompose quickly in landfill environments.
Key benefits summarized:
- Biodegradable will break down more rapidly in a landfill environment – in months or a year rather than thousands of years.
- Compostable can return to a natural state when composted in a composter or worm farm.
- Safe for humans, wildlife, animals and the environment (mostly for biodegradable).
- Less greenhouse emissions released during manufacturing.
- Less electricity and water used during manufacturing.
Which US Cities/States Have Bag Bans and Fees?
In the US, there are around 10 States with bag bans and fees – not to be confused with those cities that have completely banned single-use plastic bags (some of which fall under the States banning plastic bags):
- Boston – plastic bag ban
- Chicago – plastic bag ban
- Los Angeles – plastic bag ban
- San Francisco – plastic bag ban
- Seattle – plastic bag ban
- Boulder, Colorado – bag ban and fee
- Montgomery County, Md – bag ban and fee
- New York – bag ban and fee
- Portland, Maine – bag ban and fee
- Washington, D.C. – bag ban and fee.
With the rising interest from consumers and businesses around how to reduce environmental footprints and reduce waste, plastic is becoming an item that many States and Countries are beginning to consider or already banning.
When it comes to single-use plastic bags, many States across the United States have implemented or are planning to implement a plastic bag ban to reduce the amount of single-use plastics that end up in landfill and encourage consumers to consider reusable or bioplastics in their place.
Currently, eight States have banned single-use plastic bags and other Cities are implementing their own bans as well as fees for those wanting to use plastic bags in the shops. With many alternatives on the market – particularly when it comes to bags – consumers are moving toward trying these alternatives.
With reusable, compostable and biodegradable items becoming more popular, you can easily start considering which single-use plastics you can replace in your day-to-day life.