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Plastic bags originally became popular in the 1980’s, when businesses made the switch away from paper bags to cut back on costs. But the widespread use of plastic bags is leading to irreversible damage to the environment, and it is past time to start cutting back on use.
According to reuseit.com, over one trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. Each of these plastic bags, due to their content of high-density polyethylene, can take up to one thousand years to degrade when thrown in a landfill. Furthermore, plastic bags are the second most common type of ocean refuse after cigarette butts. The regular consumption and disposal of plastic bags is filling the earth with waste that will not decompose.
Some companies have taken steps toward correcting the growing problem. For example, the Envion Oil Generator, from the Envion company located in Washington D.C., turns recyclable plastic into synthetic oil, which then can be turned into fuel. Each generator processes 10,000 tons of fuel annually, and each ton creates around 4 barrels of crude oil. Their synthetic oil can be generated for a mere $10 per barrel, while the current market price is $70 per barrel. They plan to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic bags that build up as trash worldwide by “actively manufacturing, marketing, and licensing its proven technology in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, and Asia,” according to the company website.
Michael Han, chairman and chief executive of Envion, said “We’re creating immediate answers to today’s environmental concerns. This is an answer to environmentalists who don’t want a landfill in their back yard.”
Blest Corporation, a Japanese company, made a similar machine. Their machine also outputs crude oil, which they plan to use for industrial businesses. They offer some of these generators for sale on their website.
However, these companies require that people actively recycle plastic bags. According to Clean Air Council’s Waste and Recycling Facts, only 1% of plastic bags are recycled. In addition, the cite claims that with old technology, recycling one ton of plastic bags costs $4000, while the average box of plastic bags can only be sold for $32 on the commodities market. Recycling is therefore not considered the best way to deal with the high-intensity use of plastic bags. The 99% that is not recycled still pollutes the environment.
One country has recognized politically that something needs to be done. In 2001, Ireland implemented a plastic tax, or plastax, to cut back on use. In stores, customers were charged a nominal amount per bag at checkout. Usage dropped 93.5% overall, a drop from about 328 bags to 21 bags per person each year. Reusable shopping bags, which took the place of disposable ones, have saved around 18 million liters of oil. This was an extremely successful way to counteract the effects of plastic bags in Ireland: a large-scale incentive not to use them.
Following Ireland’s example, many other countries and cities have developed a similar tax in the hope of cutting back on waste.
Plenty of states have developed recycling initiatives, such as New York, Virginia, and Iowa, but nothing has been as successful as Ireland’s tax. School districts have also imposed environmental education, installing recycling bins in classrooms and teaching elementary school students to ‘Go Green’ with reusable bags. The world has a long way to go before plastic bags are finished with, and the next couple of generations will still be cleaning up the mess.