Whether you're living in an urban megacity or rural farmland, you certainly see plastic bags blowing around anytime you leave home.
Some blow across the roads like post-apocalyptic tumbleweed, while others get snagged in the branches of street trees. Yet, others end up floating through our creeks and rivers until they find their way to the sea.
Not only are these plastic bags not pretty scattered around the environment, they also cause real, tangible harm to man and animal.
They get into the soil and gradually release toxic chemicals. They finally break down into the soil, with the sad result being that animals eat them and often choke and die.
Below, we discuss some of the significant problems they cause.
Plastic bags adversely affect animals in a number of ways.
Many animals – including both aquatic and terrestrial varieties – eat plastic bags, and suffer from grave health problems once they do.
For example, a good number of cows, die annually after eating plastic bags that end up in their grazing areas. This has been a big issue in India, where cows are numerous and trash-collection sporadic. Animals who eat plastic bags often suffer from intestinal obstructions, which basically lead to a long, slow and painful death.
While livestock and domestic animals are surely at risk from plastic bags, some animals are experiencing even greater harm. Decades of poaching, habitat destruction, and climate change has put sea turtles at particular risk from plastic bags, as they often confuse them for jellyfish – a common food for many sea turtle species.
In fact, experts from the University of Queensland recently determined that about 52 percent of the world’s sea turtles have ingested plastic debris – much of it certainly originating in the form of plastic bags.
Clogged Sewage Systems
Even in urban regions, where wildlife is comparatively scarce, plastic bags cause great environmental harm. Runoff water gathers and carries discarded plastic bags and eventually washes them into storm sewers.
Once in the sewers, the bags often form clumps with other types of debris and eventually block the flow of water. This prevents runoff water from adequately draining, which often inconveniences those working or living in the area.
For instance, roads often flood when storm sewers become clogged, which forces them to be closed until the water drains.
This excess water can destroy cars, buildings and other property, and it also accumulates pollutants and spreads them far and wide, where they cause additional damage.
There is not much of a debate about the aesthetic impact plastic bags have on our environment
Most people would agree that plastic bags ruin the beauty of just about every imaginable habitat, from deserts and wetlands to forests and fields.
But, this aesthetic deterioration is not a trivial concern; it can actually have a significant impact on our health, culture and the economy.
Experts have long known that views of natural landscapes provide a lot of benefits. Among other things, green spaces and natural habitats help to decrease recovery times and improve outcomes of hospital patients, they help to increase focus and concentration in children, they help to reduce crime and they help to increase property values.
But when these same environments are littered with plastic bags and other types of debris, these benefits are decreased.
As you can see, plastic bags pose a significant environmental hazard. As a species, we must carefully examine the challenges they present and implement policies that are likely to reduce the amount of environmental damage they cause.