Are plastics the devil of the day?


PLASTICS are so versatile and convenient for use in our day-to-day lives – and being cheap – makes them so omnipresent. Being here, there and everywhere used plastic, callously discarded, pose one of the greatest challenges to the natural environment.

While many people think that banning or placing a tax on plastic bags will solve the global plastic pollution, research indicates that banning and taxing the consumers on the usage of these bags obliterates the most environmentally friendly option from consumers.

Plastic bags are still the right choice for the environment, economy and community if used and discarded wisely. Recyc-Québec, an environmental organisation based in Montreal, Canada found the conventional plastic bag is the best option for the environment due to several advantages.

The study states that plastic bag production requires little material and energy. They also have a high reuse rate as garbage bag and bin liners (77.7%), which help avoid the production and usage of additional bags for these purposes.

Another study conducted by UK Environment Agency in 2006 estimated that 76 per cent of single use carrier bags were reused as bin liners. According to the Recyc-Québec study, the overall life-cycle of the plastic bag – from production to the end of its life – has far less environmental impact compared with other bags.

Take paper bags for examples. They require cutting down and processing trees, which involve the use of large amounts of water, toxic chemicals, fuel and heavy machinery. While paper is biodegradable and does not cause some of the problems that come with plastic usage – the huge increase of paper, means banning plastic shopping bags which in turn increases greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2018, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency reported that organic cotton bag will need to be reused 20,000 to match the plastic bags’ carbon footprint. Other alternative bags made of paper and bioploymer need to be reused 43 and 42 times respectively. This means, an eco-friendly product should be determined from the amount of carbon emission emitted throughout the process of producing the product and not just by judging it at the disposal stage.

Banning straws also has become the “in thing” to reduce negative impact on the environment. It might seem simple and harmless, but for a disabled person, drinking straws are an “accessibility tool”.

Plastic straws have many advantages. They’re cheap, flexible, they can be used for drinking cold as well as hot drinks. Drinking straws made from alternative materials such as paper and glass lack the flexibility and durability of plastic straws. Paper straws get soggy too quickly and can’t cope with hot liquids; metals aren’t flexible and can be too hard, and are not bendable. Additionally, there’s the hygiene issue. When you’re drinking up from a reusable glass in cafes or restaurants, straws keep your lips from drinking out of the same spot a dozen other people probably drank out of earlier in the day.

Imagine when you eat at a stall which has poor hygiene practices, where the waiter might have unclean hands holding the glass where your mouth will be in contact. Banning plastic usage is not altogether the right solution to keep the environment from the negative impact of plastic pollution. While it is sad that plastic pollution has become a major global issue, plastic in itself should not be vilified as the “devil of the day”.

It all boils down to proper management of plastic materials at the end of their life.