US President Barack Obama proposes ban on single-use Plastic Bags

Banning the use of plastic bags is a major step to reduce the usage of plastic but not a great impact on the big problem of colossal disposal of plastics on the oceans

FILE - Plastic trash on the shoreline of cocoa beach in India. VOA
  • About 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year
  • Dangerous chemicals are also leeching into the bodies of the marine creatures and harm them hugely
  • A bag ban can be not much helpful considering the huge amount of plastic dumped in the oceans but it is a great step on the project of reducing plastic dump altogether

Sept 18, 2016: President Barack Obama has proposed a ban on single-use plastic bags. This is a major blow in a small but growing fight against the ‘disposable society’ as referred by the environmentalists. At present, only 12 cities or counties in the United States have barred the usage of plastic bags. But those include three of the nation’s largest cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago.

If you doubt that this is a real problem, here’s the most sobering statistic you’ll hear today: According to research published in 2015 in the journal Science, “4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic” end up in the world’s oceans every year.

Here’s a reference point for just how much plastic that is: A Nimitz class super-carrier, the largest warship ever built, weighs a measly 100,000 metric tonnes. Dump 48 of those just offshore, and that equals the low-end estimate of the plastic that is washing into the world’s oceans every year. A lot of this plastic ends up accumulating in circular currents, called gyres, throughout the world’s oceans.

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Think of them as giant whirlpools where all this plastic is spinning toward the centre of the pool. But these trash gyres, which have made headlines over the past few years, aren’t necessarily visible to the naked eye. “Much of the debris is actually small pieces of floating plastic …” NOAA says. “It is possible to sail through the ‘garbage patch’ area and see very little or no debris on the water’s surface.”

One word, plastics

It’s impossible to say just how much of that plastic debris is in the form of bags, but we do know that sea turtles often mistake bags for jellyfish — one of their favourite foods. And all too often the plastic they eat ends up lodging in their digestive systems, which can kill them. But the bigger problem is that plastic of all kinds is incredibly durable and long lasting. The lifespan of plastic is measured in hundreds of years, and if it ends up in landfills, covered by dirt or other garbage, it can be almost immortal.

And even if it does degrade, it does so in a way that causes, even more, problems to the environment. Eventually, larger plastics degrade into what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calls microplastics, smaller than 5mm in size.

The research on what all this plastic, big and little, is doing to the environment is still being conducted, but some environmental groups suggest that 100,000 sea creatures are killed every year because they get tangled up in plastic, and an estimated 1 million seabirds die every year of starvation because their stomachs are filled with plastic debris.

NOAA calls these kinds of plastic problems “direct impacts.”

Plastic and what’s in it

Another element of the plastic problem still being researched is what NOAA calls “indirect impacts.” These come from the chemicals that plastics have in them, and the chemicals they absorb as they degrade.

Emma Tonge from NOAA told VOA that plastic “can accumulate pollutants, such as PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls] up to 100,000 to 1,000,000 times the levels found in sea water.” And while these chemicals were banned in 1971, they’re still floating around.

New research in the past few years suggests these dangerous chemicals are also leeching into the bodies of the fish that eat the plastics. And once in the fish, they can stress and damage the fish, as well as us if we catch and eat them.

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Banning single-use plastic bags won’t come anywhere near solving the problem because of the wide range of plastics — everything from “common domestic material [bags, Styrofoam cups, bottles, balloons] to industrial products [strapping bands, plastic sheeting, hard hats] to lost or discarded fishing gear [nets, buoys, traps, lines],” all of which NOAA says it is finding in the oceans.

But a bag ban would help, and NOAA says the agency is continuing to “support a number of projects across the country that use outreach and education as a means to prevent marine debris.” These programs focus on prevention, or keeping the plastic from getting into the ocean through what NOAA calls “changes that incorporate the three R’s [reduce, reuse, recycle].” It’s a start that could benefit not only the sea life that is steadily ingesting plastic but carnivores like us at the top of the food chain who may be eating contaminated seafood. (VOA)

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  • Yokeshwari Manivel

    ya! plastics should be banned because over use of plastic will lead to over non disposal garbage and to disposal we might harm the natural resources its better to use the renewable resources.

  • Manthra koliyer

    This should be followed all over the world

  • Enakshi

    a great initiative..

  • Ayushi Gaur

    Responsible initiative

  • Kathi Brennan King

    More than 150 cities and counties in California alone have regulated single use bags so the total figure is many more than the 12 cited at the beginning of this article. California has Prop 67 on the November ballot – a referendum brought about by the plastics industry. If it passes, California will be the first state with a statewide law (Hawaii’s law covers the whole state but is county by county). These bags do need to be regulated to stem the tide of single use plastics polluting our open spaces and marine environments.

    • Deborah SG

      Cambridge, Mass.; Brookline, Mass. (which has banned single-use plastic bags and styrofoam cups and containers).

  • Arya Sharan

    Plastic ban is a good initiative but something needs to be done about the dumped plastic too. That is causing soil and aquatic pollution.

  • Abby Goldberg

    True plastic bag litter is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the damage we are doing to the planet, But if we can’t fix this issue by banning the bag, changing our behavior with the simple act of refusing the bag, how ae we going to deal with the bigger issues?

  • Asherah Sarasvati Athena Siri

    Can someone please confirm that President Obama has proposed a plastic bag ban? I cannot find confirmation of this claim anywhere else. Source link please? Thanks!

  • Manthra koliyer

    This has been taken from VOA.. For further details you can refer to that site!

    • Asherah Sarasvati Athena Siri

      Thanks–I did a search and this is the only article I found recently that talks about the discussion of banning plastic bags. The thumbnail search blurb states the Obama administration recommended banning plastic bags, but when you actually click on the article it doesn’t even discuss the Obama administration proposing any ban at all. Do you know of a different link?

  • Yokeshwari Manivel

    ya! plastics should be banned because over use of plastic will lead to over non disposal garbage and to disposal we might harm the natural resources its better to use the renewable resources.

  • Manthra koliyer

    This should be followed all over the world