Plastics and Plastic Bags
The Town is Contemplating Single Use Plastic Bag Rules and Regulations
Plastics and Plastic Bag Workshop (held Nov 9, 2017)
The Town wants to involve our citizens and businesses in the discussion of what to do about environmental issues. Although the Town desires to ensure that they pursue ways to be the best stewards of our environment, at the forefront is the debate on the use of plastic bags. The Town is exploring regulations on the use of plastic bags that may include a ban on the use of what are called "Single Use Plastic Bags". As part of the plan to gain as much public input as possible on the issue so that the Town Council can make an informed decision, we conducted a public workshop at Town Hall on November 9, 2017.
There were be some brief presentations, the majority of the workshop time will be dedicated to a discussion to explore various aspects of the issue.
More workshop read-ahead information is available at the following link.
Our Plastic Bag Survey
We requested your comments on single use plastic bags. We has a Single Use Plastic Bag Survey.
The survey closed on November 15, 2016. The results will be posted soon.
Plastics are a Complex Issue.
We understand that there are many problems with the disposal of plastics. But, plastics have become interwoven into our way of life. Disposal of plastics is a complex issue and improper use and disposal has created significant environmental impact.
Plastic Pollution is a BIG Problem
Plastic pollution is a huge problem with tons of plastic on the earth including in the oceans. Unlike many other things that we throw away that decompose quickly, plastics take much longer to break down. There are currently many initiatives and programs in place to educate people about plastic and the dangers that it poses for the environment.
Plastic bags get into soil and slowly release toxic chemicals. They eventually break down into the soil, with the unfortunate consequence being that animals eat them and often choke and die. Over 100,000 animals are suspected of coming to this unfortunate end throughout the world every single year, on both land and in our oceans. Plastic bags that pollute our oceans have a bad habit of killing sea turtles in particular. They are by far the biggest casualty in all of this as they mistake carrier bags for jelly fish, or similar food, and then end up choking.
Facts About Plastic Pollution
- More plastic has been produced in the last ten years that during the entire last century.
- Approximately half of all plastic used is disposable, meaning it is used once and then thrown into the garbage.
- Each year, people throw away enough plastic to circle the entire earth four times.
- Each year, the average American citizen will throw away more than 180 pounds of plastic trash.
- More than thirty billion plastic bottles are thrown away each year just in America.
- Billions of pounds of plastic have entered the ocean, accounting for approximately forty percent of ocean surfaces around the world.
Plastics are Different from Other Things that go into the Landfill
When items are thrown away, they sit in a landfill and begin to break down or decompose as they are eaten by miniscule organisms such as fungi or bacteria. Items such as cotton, wood, and other materials can be eaten by these tiny organisms, as they are able to break down atoms as they eat the object. Plastic is a bit different because the atoms that make up plastic are linked in a much more complicated manner. Bacteria and fungi are unable to break down these more complicated atoms.
It Takes a LONG TIME, Maybe NEVER, for Plastics to Break Down
There are other processes that can break down plastics but they take a very long time, possibly even centuries. One process that can break down plastic is photodegradation, which requires sunlight instead of fungi or bacteria. With photodegredation, UV rays break down the molecular chains that make plastic. As time goes on, the process of photodegredation can turn one large piece of plastic into many little pieces. Plastics that are buried in the landfill will not necessarily get much sunlight and will likely take many, many years to break down.
Unfortunately, pollution has led to plastic winding up in the world's oceans and other bodies of water. Plastic in the ocean is exposed to lots of sunlight, causing it to degrade faster than plastic in a landfill. As the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces, it can release toxic chemicals that can contaminate water, and in turn negatively affect the health of sea life. Animals can also ingest these tiny pieces of plastic, which can be fatal.
Individual bags in the mainstream mixed recyclables cause clogs in the recycling equipment at the recycle center. They also often float free and are lost to the environment. Many grocery stores have a place to deposit your plastic bags for recycling. The Transfer Station also has plastic bag disposal containers at the exit from the pits, but this is not for recycling, only disposal. The ReStore Program is the only correct way to recycle plastic bags.
What About Biodegradable Plastic Bags?
There are several types of biodegradable plastic that have been developed. Often, these products are made from corn, and can decompose much faster than traditional types of plastic. The issue with these bags though is that they still need air and sunlight to break down. Therefore, if if they are stuck in a landfill again, they can cause just as much as a problem. If they make it to the ocean, they still can harm marine animals, whether as whole bags or as broken-down plastic particles.
What About Paper Bags?
A lot of people think that paper bags are a good alternative to plastic bags, but they are not. Paper bag production is very energy intensive, and unless they are made from recycled paper products, they are cutting down more trees as well.
The BEST Option – Reusable Bags
The only real option is to go with a reusable bag, also known as an ‘Eco bag’. There is nothing special about an eco-bag, other than they are usually ethically made and are REUSABLE. They are also far sturdier than a plastic bag and can often hold more than its plastic counterpart. Using reusable bags over single use plastic bags will help to combat this plastic pollution issue. It helps to eliminate the question of what to do with the single use plastic bags after a shopping trip, as this is where a lot of the plastic pollution problems start.
Personal Responsibility and a Minor Habit Change Can MAKE A DIFFERENCE
This is preventable if we each work to change this one minor habit in our lives, as this one small change can have a huge impact.
Additional Information on Plastics and the Environment:
- Are Plastic Grocery Bags Sacking the Environment? - An article from National Geographic that explores the environmental impact of plastic bag use.
- Reducing Disposable Bag Pollution - An article explaining how disposable bags cause pollution and what is being done to reduce the problem.
- The Environmental Impacts of Plastic Bag Use - A list of the negative environmental impacts of using plastic bags.
- Marine Debris Impacts - An overview of the impact of marine debris on the environment from the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling Plastic Bags and Wrap - A page that provides education on what can be down to reduce plastic bag use and increase recycling.
- Environmental Impact of Plastic Bags - A graphic that explains the life cycle of a plastic bag and its impact on the environment.
- The Plastic Bag Problem - An article that provides information on the issue of plastic bags, and how people can reduce use and recycle.
- Plastics in our Oceans - A page that explores the increasingly harmful issue of plastic pollution in the world's oceans.
- Polymers are Forever - Plastics are polymers, and this article explains how plastic does not break down, causing major environmental issues.
- Plastics in the Ocean Affecting Human Health - Information from a case study that explored how plastic in the ocean is affecting the health of humans.