Recently it might have come to your attention through one media format or another that there is growing pressure to ban plastic bags. The concern comes as awareness of its damage in the environment and in particular the marine ecosystem where dissections of dead marine life for the purpose of autopsy have increasingly found animals stuffed full of plastics. And as the viewing/reading public have reacted in horror to the photos, questions have arisen about why plastic is so bad and what can be done about it.
I could do a simple Q+A session here, but I think you are intelligent enough to figure a lot of it out for yourselves. Instead, I am going to look at some of the more toxic elements in plastics, how they affect us and what is (not)being done to address the issue.
Bisphenol is a group of chemical compounds with hydroxyphenyl functionalities. Its most common type Bisphenol A (B.P.A.) is commonly used in plastics and epoxy resins, as a lining on food and beverage cans among other uses. In 2015 4 million tons of B.P.A. was manufactured for use around the world.
B.P.A. has a chequered reputation. Whilst some studies suggest that it might be tentatively linked to cancer in general terms, none have concluded this decisively. Links to neuroblastoma are somewhat stronger. But it has been linked to asthma, potential changes in how aquatic species and in particular fish reproduce, grow and develop.
Although B.P.A. is the most commonly used it is not the only potentially toxic chemical in plastics. Polyvinyl Chloride (P.V.C.). After polyethylene and polypropylene it is the most heavily used plastic polymer in the world. It has widespread industrial applications that range from being used in bank cards, electrical cable insulation, inflatable products among others.
Calls have been made to introduce a levy on plastic bags. Others want to go further and ban plastic bags outright.
I personally support a vast reduction in plastic bags and try to reduce my own use of them. One of the steps I have taken is taking reusable ones from home to the supermarket with me, or if it is one or two items only, simply carry them. I am not totally for a ban though because plastic bags do have their uses, such as being somewhere to put the dog’s poop that you have just scooped off the footpath; used to line rubbish bins among other not so glamorous, yet important functions.
I am in two minds about banning plastic bags. Sure we have just seen some of the toxic elements in our bags, and that dead marine life being found full of plastics is not a nice sight, but would not a N.Z.$0.50c levy per bag act as a good incentive to voluntarily give them up? Not wanting to pay another $4 on the supermarket bill, one might be surprised at how effective the deterrent would be.
A better requirement would be to introduce compulsory recycling points at all large chain stores. This would give people a place where they can safely dispose of their excess bags and get an accurate fix on the severity of the problem. Although I have concerns about the potential environmental emissions that would result from it, there are industrial uses that could be considered also for our excess baggage. Whilst I am not sure that New Zealand construction standards would permit the use of recycled plastic in roads as a way of cutting down on the asphalt, it is something that has been tried in India.
The long story short: Plastic is not fantastic, but there are alternative uses that people have developed. We just need to stop humming and harring and get on with deciding how to take a problem that does not biodegrade.