Today, July 3, is International Plastic Bag Free Day. Globally, citizens and organizations are organizing activities highlighting the issue of plastic bag use and its effects, thereby strengthening the call to prohibit the use of single-use plastic bags.
The issue is in fact related to our daily life. The single-use plastic bag has now become a symbol of the consumer society and is practically ingrained in our lives. One plastic bag seems a little thing to be concerned about until you realize that millions are being thrown away every day. On the average, a plastic bag is used for 20 minutes before being thrown away. If we consider the number of disposable plastic bags, the population, the frequency of use, its inability to degrade for hundreds of years and all other variables – one only has to do the math to picture the worst possible scenario. Flooding, toxics and marine pollution do not even say it all.
The throwaway mentality that we have developed over the years through the use and availability of plastic bags has made it impossible for us to pursue a sustainable society. The convenience one single-use plastic bag offers is not worth the massive environmental and socio-economic problems that we are all bound to face eventually. Once we discard it, whether it ends up in our dust bins or in our waterways, it will never go away.
Plastic waste consistently remains top in generated waste during clean-ups and waste audits in Manila Bay. Data from discard surveys in 2006 and 2010 in Manila Bay show that among plastic products, plastic bags were the main waste contributor in terms of volume.
In the Philippines, many local government units are gradually going the right direction through ordinances banning the use of plastic bags. These are slow but sure steps, but a broader, more ambitious policy must be put in place. Enacting a nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags remains to be the call of many environmental groups. And this takes both communal and political will to achieve.
As Greenpeace, together with other groups, participates in yet another waste audit, the result may well serve as another grim reminder of the urgency of banning plastic bags and preventing them from entering our waste stream. By using single-use plastic bags, we’re honestly not doing Mother Earth a favour.
If each one of us says “no to plastic bags,” then we are giving out the right message. Doing away with plastic bags and going for reusables already offer a sustainable solution to the problem. It only takes little acts put together to make a big difference.
Alternatives are there. Practical solutions that people can easily understand, appreciate and practice are available. We can prevent the proliferation of single-use disposable products or short-lived ones. We can refuse to be part of this massive plastic pollution. We can reverse the situation and rise above plastics.
Abigail Aguilar is the Toxics Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia - Philippines.