Disadvantages of Using Plastic Bags

Bag, Groceries, Paper Bag
A reusable bag filled with groceries. (Image: artisteer/iStock/Getty Images)

Plastic bags provide convenience at the store and around the home. A recent push to reduce use of plastic bags is based on information concerning their negative impacts. Reusable bags offer an affordable and durable alternative to plastic bags. Some stores offer small discounts on your total bill if you bring your own bags.

Petroleum Base

Polyethylene bags are the most common plastic bags. These bags are made from crude oil and natural gas according to the New York Times. Both oil and gas are nonrenewable energy sources, meaning they are in limited supply. The mining and manufacturing process of fossil fuels creates pollution.

Non-Biodegradable

Estimates of the number of plastic bags used around the world each year vary in range from 100 million to a trillion according to a New York Times article. Since only a small portion of these bags is recycled, many plastic bags are left to enter the waste stream. The bags will likely take about 1,000 years to decompose. Because such a large number of bags are produced and it takes a long time for them to decompose, the plastic bags that are thrown away create a lot of waste in the landfills on top of the trash that may be inside of them.

Durability

A plastic bag is most often usable once or twice if the contents placed into it aren't too heavy. When heavy items, such as canned foods or bottles, are placed in the bag, the handles are more likely to break. Double-bagging the goods is a common practice, but this practice uses more bags and creates more trash. A reusable cloth bag is much more durable and able to withstand repeated use. The handles are more sturdy, making them better equipped to handle heavier items.

Animal Threat

Plastic bags introduced into the environment present a hazard for various animals. When plastic bags aren't properly disposed, they may eventually make their way to bodies of water. According to the EPA, this often happens when they are washed into storm drains, sewers and streams.

Plastic bags in the water may get wrapped around marine animals. Sea turtles sometimes swallow plastic bags because they resemble jellyfish. The plastic bags may make the animals suffocate or starve to death.

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