The use of plastic bags warrants attention in the sustainable consumption debate, especially when packaging accounts for a significant amount of the resources consumed and waste generated by our consumer lifestyles. Governments, retailers and community activists are striving to improve sustainability performance by finding ways to reduce plastic bag use.
The authors presented a balanced view of both advantages and disadvantages of plastics bags, which is crucial in evaluating initiatives adopted by different countries. Plastic bags are energy efficient to produce, cost-effective, convenient to store and easy to use. However, they have adverse impacts in terms of waste disposal and one significant problem is that plastic bags are non-biodegradable and take at least hundred years to decompose. When they break down in size, animals die as they mistake the plastic bags for food and ingest them (Aldred, 2007). Plastic bags clog drainage systems and create pollution where discarded plastic bags float in oceans. Russo (2012) also found that large amounts of money have to be spent on cleaning up the plastic bags and the damages caused by them.
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However, the claim that many countries spend a substantial amount on cleaning up the plastic bags and the damages caused by them is not justified. In many cases, these claims are merely guesses by advocates instead of actual data, and cost is often thrown in as a justification after bans are enacted for political reasons (Myers, 2012). Science also does not support the fact that plastic bags do any genuine harm. Plastic bags end up doing less damage than other alternatives and the benefits that the bags offer far outweigh their cost (Myers, 2012). Independent studies also show that plastic bags are environmentally preferable to paper because plastic bags have a lighter environmental footprint (Gunther, 2011). In addition, current plastic bags use 70% less plastic than those of 20 years previously and account for less fuel to transport, fewer emissions than paper bags ().
References obtained by the authors were credible and reliable as information was based on recent data and reputable sources. The authors provided a global perspective of approaches adopted by different countries in reducing their plastic use. For example, countries like Taiwan banned the use of plastic bags to reduce environmental issues such as litter and landfill. Russo (2012) found that by banning plastic bags, funds would be redirected to infrastructures and consumer demand would shift toward other alternatives, creating more opportunities for entrepreneurs to come up with alternatives to plastic. Companies that manufacture reusable bags could also expand their product lines and create more jobs. In contrast, voluntary action is on the part of consumers and the business community to reduce plastic bag use in the UK.
However, research by Clover (2007) revealed that banning of plastic bags would not be effective in reducing environmental issues as there would be an increase in paper bag production, resulting in a greater amount of methane being released in landfill. Other research also showed that banning plastic bags does not help the environment as it increase carbon emissions and other environmental problems. Research by Lane (2007) highlighted that even though most of the waste in landfill sites comes from packaging, plastic bags form only a small fraction of the litter stream. They occupy lesser of the landfill space, leading to lesser greenhouse gases and pollution, as compared to wood and paper (British Retail Consortium News, 2007).
Therefore, some countries like UK do not support an outright ban on plastic as it would not be a long-term solution in sustainable development. Instead, they seek other alternatives such as paper bags or an imposed tax on plastic bags. However, United Kingdomâ€™s Environment Agency (2011) found that alternatives such as paper bags have a worse effect on the environment than plastic bags. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, plastic bags require 40 percent less energy than paper bags and that paper bag manufacturing creates 70 percent more air pollution and 50 percent more water. Alternatives to plastic bags may also not be practical because when governments outlaw plastic bags to encourage consumers to use other environmentally damaging products, more pollution is actually created (Agresti, 2012). There might also be society and economic impacts on the less affluent in terms of employment loss, due to reduced plastic bag manufacturing ().
Another possible alternative which the authors did not consider could be the recycling of plastic bags in recycling centers. Explain. However, it has proven to be difficult to process mechanically as they are often labour intensive and cost intensive to sort plastic waste. Furthermore, in many cases, efforts to increase bag recycling have shown minimal success to date ().
The process of changing consumer behaviour in relation to plastic bag use is complex as many variables are at play. Therefore, I agree with the authorsâ€™ assumption that there are different perspectives as to how consumer behaviour should be modified. For countries such as Bangladesh and India, flooding and public health concerns resulted in the use of legislation to ban the use of plastic bags. In the UK, consumers are urged to reduce their use of plastic bags while retailers are expected to introduce measures to encourage consumers to act responsibly. Other countries like Italy, Ireland and Denmark prefer to impose tax to encourage consumers to reduce plastic bag use and taxes collected can raise revenue for further environmental improvement. In the case of Singapore, options to reduce the use of plastic bags are still being considered, especially on the role of retailers in charging consumers for plastic bags at checkouts.
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To conclude, the use of plastic bags has a great impact on sustainable consumption. Changing consumer behavior through voluntary action, legislation banning the use of plastic bags, or taxing their use can make a difference to a more sustainable future. Most importantly, the use of materials and energy should not be restricted where only unnecessary use of plastic bags is avoided. We ought to look at a macro perspective and not just focus on the issue of plastic bags. In fact, there should be a sustainable use of everything which includes the reinforcement of public awareness and motivation to reduce, reuse and recycle (3Rs) to resolve environmental problems.
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