The Menace of Single-Use Plastic Bags

Single-use plastic bags are one of the most objectionable types of litter in urban areas. The sheer volume of plastic waste generated, coupled with energy and material resources required for production, as well as emissions resulting from these processes, paint a grim picture of the environmental havoc created by plastic bags.

These single-use plastic bags are causing extensive negative effects to the environment because of how simply they can be used in one’s daily life. There are candy wrappers, takeout containers, and other packaging that should’ve otherwise been avoided.

Single-use plastic bags are a huge threat to the environment as an estimated 1 trillion such bags are consumed worldwide every year. In the United Arab Emirates alone, nearly 12 billion plastic bags are used annually. This stems from the throw-away culture practiced by so many individuals across the globe.

All these said, learn more about the menace that single-use plastic bags bring to the world today.

Hazards of Single-Use Plastic Bags

Single-use plastic bags are notorious for their interference in natural ecosystems and for causing the death of aquatic organisms, animals, and birds. In 2006, The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean, and up to 80 percent of marine debris worldwide is plastic, which are responsible for the death of a more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year from starvation, choking or entanglement.

In fact, there’s a huge floating dump in the Pacific Ocean called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” which is hundreds of miles wide and consists mostly of plastic debris caught in the ocean’s currents. This is a very sad reality, as you can only imagine the destruction that it has caused to aquatic plants and animals in their home.

Plastic bags are mistakenly ingested by animals, like cows and camels, clogging their intestines, resulting in death by starvation. Many ocean divers and photographers have documented the sad death of animals, like turtles, with their bodies trapped in plastic.

In addition, plastic bags clog urban drainage systems and contribute to flooding, as witnessed in Mumbai, Dhaka, and Manila in recent decades. Moreover, toxic chemicals from single-use bags can enter the food chain when they are ingested by animals and birds.

Large numbers of camels in the Middle East die every year due to plastic ingestion

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of these bags are recycled each year, and most float about the landscape and create a tremendous expense in clean-up costs. Several countries, regions, and cities have enacted legislation to ban or severely reduce the use of disposable plastic shopping bags. Plastic bags litter serve as a floating transportation agent that enables alien species to move to new parts of the world, thus threatening biodiversity.

Alternatives to Single-Use Bags

It’s not too late yet. There are still many changes in your lifestyle that you can incorporate to reduce your plastic footprint in the environment. The hazards of single-use plastic bag can be mitigated by raising environmental awareness among communities. Many municipalities in the Gulf region are targeting shopping malls and grocery stores to reduce dependence on single-use plastic bags.

Environmental education at workplaces, schools, and residential areas is a vital tool in the fight against plastic bags. Empowering people to take proactive actions and encouraging them to be a part of the solution can also be helpful in reducing the reliance on single-use plastic bags.

Municipalities can make use of the 5Rs of waste management—Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Recover—to encourage safe disposal of plastic bags, which may be facilitated by mass deployment of plastic bag collection systems and recycling facilities at strategic locations. Some of the alternatives are cloth-based bags, such as jute and cotton, which are biodegradable as well as reusable. For instance, www.calico-bags.com.au/, a supplier in Australia, is a very good source of beautiful, customized calico eco-bags that you can use instead of plastics.

In fact, the range of durable fabric shopping bags is growing each year in Western countries, including those that can be conveniently folded up into a pocket.

From one’s primary years in school, you may have already been taught the basics of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” While it seems very simple, however, it’s actually one of the basic ways to instill this eco-friendly lifestyle in the lives of people. It may seem difficult at first, but once you truly get the hang of it, you’ll realize that there’s no better way of life than an environment-friendly one.

The introduction of ‘plastic bags tax’ can also be a handy weapon in restricting the use of single-use plastic bags in the Middle East. For example, Ireland introduced a plastic bag charge called PlasTax more than a decade ago, which has virtually eliminated plastic bags in the country.

Initiatives in Middle East

The Middle East region has been slow in gearing up to the challenges posed by single-use plastic bags, though governments have been trying to raise public awareness aimed at behavioral change. The Ministry of Environment and Water in UAE launched an initiative called “UAE free of plastic bags” to maintain the health of the natural habitat and enhance the environmental standards of the state.

The Dubai Municipality has also launched an ambitious “No to Plastic Bags” campaign to slash 500 million plastic bags. There are similar but small-scale efforts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait to encourage clean-up campaigns in seas, deserts and cities.

In Egypt, the Red Sea (Hurghada) is the first plastic bag-free governorate, having introduced a ban which generated employment opportunities for women who have been charged with creating cloth bags in the place of plastic bags.

Final Word

After reading this, you hopefully have more insights about one of the biggest dangers facing the environment: single-use plastics. While it’s bringing bad news to countries all over the world, it also brings with it good news.

When you put in the right attitude and commitment to avoid using single-use plastic in your home, that’s at least one more person moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Think of this positive change as your gift to future generations.

One small change can mean a world of difference for the safety and health of the planet.

About Eaman Abdullah Aman

Eaman Abdullah Aman is MRLS graduate in Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy with a specialization certificate in Energy Law and Policy from Denver University, USA. Her expertise encompasses international petroleum transactions, petroleum contracts and agreements, international petroleum investment operations, energy policy and economics of natural resources law and policy. She has rich knowledge on issues related to climate change mitigation, environmental law and policy, environmental ethics, energy security, sustainable development etc.
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15 Responses to The Menace of Single-Use Plastic Bags

  1. Another use of these kind of plastic bags revolves around recycling but in this case the use of such bags to manufacture items made of these plastic bags by community groups especially women who desperately need added income. For example in Ghana in West Africa where the menace is even greater, a group of women formed a small company called Trashy Bags. They created a sensitization campaign aimed at mainly schools and civic organizations. They then created a collection system, a sorting system and a design system to create various useful items from the plastic bags that had become nothing but trash that was non biodegradable. They made, handbags, garbage pails, computer covers, school pencil pouches, wallets, credit card holders, reusable grocery bags with handles, etc. They created employment opportunities for plastic bag collectors, plastic designers and the workshop women who created the new products. They opened several small sales points and embarked upon a marketing campaign. They donated 10% of the sales value to schools who collected the most primary material bags from gutters, fields, homes, schools, etc. It worked very well and despite the slow start up, women now have gainful employment, a tribute to their persistence. In the end however, only the abandonment of the use of such non degradable bags will solve this environmental hazard. However, the plastics industry there is hesitating to use biodegradable plastic ingredients as they are more expensive to obtain in the first place. Advocacy is still very much needed. In Ghana, the ever present black plastic bag remains everywhere and at the beach the ocean is filled with these ugly bags making it impossible to even put your toes into the sea. At the end of the day, solutions exist, and it is only a question of will and the desire to make it happen. Keep the pressure up and only time will tell. Taxing the use of plastic bags works and when it hits the consumers pocketbook, demand will drop and ultimately. I go to the store always with my own reusable bags made of recycled plastics and each bag is now at least five years old. Keep these kind of articles coming, they are part of the solution.

  2. Sara says:

    Loved this article and this is a great insight on what the Middle East region is doing now to combat plastic bag usage.

    • Salman Zafar says:

      Dear Sara

      Glad to know that the article was useful to you. Let us try to minimize the use of plastic bags in our daily lives.

      Best wishes

      Salman Zafar

      Founder, EcoMENA

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