It was one of the chilly winter mornings while coming back from a morning walk, my friend suggested for a cup of tea, and we stopped at a nearby tea shop for our morning cuppa.

While we were waiting for our cup of tea, I observed that the tea was being served in a white colour plastic cup. Few people were also carrying the tea in a small white colour plastic bag/pouch. There was another black colour plastic carry bag which was used to carry street foods such as samosas etc. I was shocked by the usage of plastic bags in everyone's daily life unaware of the adverse health and environmental impact.

Carrying hot tea or food in a plastic bag may be a convenient option but it may have serious and adverse implications on health and the environment. Being an environmental enthusiast, I thought to deep dive into the facts.

Background:

Dependency on plastic in day to day life is not uncommon, it is being utilized in almost all aspects of daily life. In India, there are myriads of benefits of plastic. The material is cheap, lightweight and easy to make and these qualities have led to a boom in the production of plastic over the century. Most of the plastics are not biodegradable. Instead, they slowly break down into smaller fragments known as microplastics. Studies suggest that the plastic bags and containers made of expanded polystyrene foam (commonly referred to as “Styrofoam”) can take up to thousands of years to decompose, contaminating soil and water. The most common single-use plastics found in the environment are, in order of magnitude, cigarette butts, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, other types of plastic bags, and foam takeaway containers. These are the waste products of a throwaway culture that treats plastic as a disposable material rather than a valuable resource to be harnessed.

History:

In the early 60s, there were various unknown factors regarding the globally changing environment. One major finding was deforestation across the globe that resulted in increasing earth temperature and climate change.

In developed countries paper bags were used for shopping the household goods and identified as one among the reasons for tree cutting or deforestation. To address the same “Sten Gustaf Thulin” a Swedish engineer came with an idea of a bag that can be used multiple times and become a substitute for paper bags. Thulin produced a simple bag by cutting a plastic tube which by nature had high load-carrying capacity. His bag was later patented by Celloplast in 1965. Celloplast was the producer of cellulose and famous for plastic processing. After patent, Celloplast started production of a lightweight plastic shopping bag. Gradually it was adopted by all developing and developed countries.

Composition of plastic bags:

A plastic bag is composed of monomer ethylene. Ethylene is produced from petroleum or natural gas. Polyethylene can be synthesized by Polymerization of ethylene. Polyethylene pellets can be used for manufacturing plastic bags. These pellets are compacted and melted to form a continuous, viscous liquid and extruded through die for producing the bags in different shapes.

Type of plastic bags:

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): One of the most common forms of plastic bags, HDPE bags can be found in restaurants, convenience stores, grocery stores even in homes for storing and packaging purposes. HDPE is also used as garbage bags, utility bags, T-shirt bags, and laundry bags, among others.

Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE): This type of plastic is commonly used for utility bags, food bags, bread bags as well as bags with moderate strength and stretch properties. Though LDPE is not as strong as HDPE bags, they can store bulk items, specifically food and meat products.

Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE): LLDPE bags exhibit a moderate degree of clarity and are used for the manufacturing of food bags, newspaper bags, shopping bags as well as garbage bags. They can also be used for food storage in freezers and refrigerators, due to which they are used for the storage of bulk food items in commercial kitchens.

Medium Density Polyethylene (MDPE): However, MDPE is a common material for garbage bags and is generally used in consumer packaging for paper products such as toilet paper or paper towels.

Polypropylene (PP): PP bags are characterized by their remarkable chemical strength and resistance. Unlike other bags, polypropylene bags are not breathable and are ideal for retail situations due to their longer shelf life. PP is also used for food packaging, where items like candies, nuts, herbs and other confectionery can be easily stored in bags made of it.

Facts About Polythene Carry Bags:

There are various physical characteristics which made the plastic bag more popular as compared with a paper bag or other jute bag;

a) It is non-toxic and may have chemical resistance

b) waterproof

c) non-breakable and safe, easy in handling

d) Resistant to microbial growth such as bacteria

e) lightweight

f) Cheaper in cost as compared with other

A study from US environmental Protection energy suggests that

a) producing plastic waste consumes less energy as compared with Paper bags

b) The volume of Solid waste is manifold low as compared with paper bags

c) It generates less greenhouse gas than uncomposed or composted paper bags

Irrespective of having various good properties several countries have banned the use of plastic bags?

Ban for Plastic Bag:

2002: Bangladesh was the first country in the world to implement a ban on thin plastic bags after it was found they played a key role in clogging drainage systems during disastrous flooding.

2017: Kenya bans plastic bags

2019: India Bans single-use plastic

The major reason behind the ban on plastic carry bags is the irresponsible behaviour of people towards its usage. For comfort in daily life, the utilization of single-use plastic was increased. However, the required management practice was not followed. This results in a huge pile-up of unmanaged single-use plastic wastes.

What is Single us Plastic:

As per UNEP (United Nation Environment Program) Single-use plastics, often also referred to as disposable plastics, are commonly used for plastic packaging and include items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These include, among other items, grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups and cutlery.

Practise of Single-use plastic in India:

In India, usage of single-use plastic is being done for almost everything. In terms of usage, the synonyms of carrying bag mean Plastic Bag. Almost 15, 000 tonnes of plastic waste are generated every day, out of which 9, 000 tonnes are collected and processed/recycled. However, around 6, 000 tonnes of plastic waste are not being collected. The uncollected mass of these plastic waste further worsens the environment by the various long-term adverse impact as follows:

a) Adverse impact on aquatic animals when thrown into the water

b) Adverse health impact on animals who at times chew the same with other solid wastes

c) Choke the sewer and drain resulting in flash floods.

d) Reduce the natural capacity of percolation of rainwater through the soil

e) Most of the plastics are non-biodegradable. It remains in the soil for many years and reduces the natural fertility

Initiatives by the government of India:

Calling Ban on Single-use plastic has been welcomed in India as the government has taken initiative to prevent its manufacturing and usage. Although the complete and detailed plan is not yet shared amongst people. The first and best approach to manage environmental pollution is to make people aware of the adverse impact of plastic usage. Government has successfully done the same by taking a good initiative to minimize its usage and then eliminate the same in the coming days.

Along with government intervention, citizen participation is equally important in this mission. This can be done by the following mean of voluntary activity;

a) Educating people about the environment and making them aware of the adverse impact of plastic.

b) Replacing the plastic with alternatives such as jute bag, cloth bag while shopping.

c) Segregation of waste at source, by this it can be sent for processing/recycling.

d) Used cloth/Old Cloth can be utilized or promoted for preparation of carrying bag

e) Stop throwing wastes in open or water

Reference:

https://rutanpoly.com/different-types-of-plastic-bags/

http://atozplastics.com/upload/Literature/Facts-Plastic-polyethylene-Carry-Bags.asp