Plastic was, at first, invented to stop the slaughter of elephants. Elephant tusks were in high demand for ivory-based billiard balls – and to stop poaching of elephants, a new material was needed. But it has gone from a marvel to a menace, in a way few could have foreseen.
Plastic was, at first, a marvel. But people soon realised it had unforeseen consequences. The first successful plastic, celluloid, was made in 1869. However, it wasn't until the end of World War II that plastic became widespread and ubiquitous – by 1990 plastic bags had almost replaced paper bags in grocery stores around the world, and plastic was beginning to be used to package fresh food along with its many other modern uses, so much so that by 1997 researchers discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the first time. Today, no one is quite sure how much plastic the world uses. The United Nations estimates that between 1 and 5 trillion plastic bags are produced every year globally. If take use the lower figure, that means two million are used every minute.
Plastic bans have been implemented in many places around the world. The first country in the world to implement a ban on plastic bags was Bangladesh in 2002, after the people realised the bags were clogging drainage systems and exacerbating flooding. The most severe penalties for using plastic bags are in Kenya, where manufacturers, distributors, importers, and users can face up to $38,000 in fines or 4 years in prison. Denmark was the first country to pass a bag tax in 1993, and as a result residents use on average 4 plastic bags each year. In the US, by contrast, residents use almost one plastic bag per person daily. Plastic bag bans can be effective – however, they are not the whole answer. Our lives include many other sources of plastic, including the packaging on supermarket items, delivery packaging, and household product containers. Many of these are not easily omitted from our lifestyles. We need alternative methods of producing and presenting these items, so that by buying them we are not contributing to ocean pollution. Until we have laws banning or taxing packaging on these ubiquitous products, plastic bag bans can only do so much.
Information taken from National Geographic, the UN Environment Programme and the University of Oregon. Read about our PLA bioplastics, an alternative to oil-based plastics and what it means to be a B Corp on our blog. Or, to see what alternative packaging products we distribute, have a look at our store.
Planet Friendly Packaging acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we work. Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by COVID-19. Stay safe.