Can Reusable Bags Help Minimize Ocean-Bound Plastic?
What is ocean-bound plastic?
Perhaps obviously, ocean-bound plastic is plastic bound for the ocean. It constitutes mismanaged waste—whether that means waste that was improperly managed through official means or through litter—that will be imminently lost in the ocean.
Many people don’t realize that 70% – 80% of marine plastic originates from land. While things like fishing nets and other sea-based waste pose an issue, it’s those of us on land who are generating insurmountable amounts of marine waste.
The reason why there is more concern surrounding ocean-bound waste versus other forms of mismanaged waste is that, once the waste reaches the ocean, it is likely lost forever. While there are efforts in place to remove marine plastic, there is simply too much to process; it’s like using a bucket to prevent the sinking of the Titanic.
Furthermore, much of the plastic waste that’s currently in the ocean is no longer solid material. Rather, it has degraded into a mush that is nearly impossible to remove. However, the toxicity of materials still makes them a hazard to marine life.
Our best chance at reducing the amount of plastic waste in the ocean is to stop it before it gets there. We can only save our oceans through prevention. Reusable bags provide one form of prevention.
How much ocean-bound plastic is made up of plastic bags?
While ocean-bound plastic is made up of many different types of plastic—namely of the post-consumer variety—plastic bags constitute a big portion of these. A study by the Worldwatch Institute estimated that around 8% of single-use plastic bags end up in the ocean. When around 5 trillion plastic bags are used annually, that means that around 400 billion plastic bags end up in the ocean every year. Many more are left littering waterways and abandoned to nature.
The reason why plastic bags are so poorly managed is that they are incredibly lightweight. This means that, even if a plastic bag is properly thrown away, it can easily catch the wind and become litter bound for the ocean, anyway.
Furthermore, plastic bags cannot be recycled. Even if you reuse a plastic bag once or twice within the home, its final destination will either be a landfill or litter. In terms of sustainability, there are very few perks to plastic bags.
Once in the ocean, plastic bags may be ingested by wildlife. Plastic cannot be digested, so the plastic is left to fill the stomach, and marine life like turtles will eventually starve. Beyond this, plastic bags will eventually degrade into microplastics that are in turn consumed by fish. This has led to trace amounts of plastic being found in humans who consume seafood. Through our use of plastic bags, we are ultimately poisoning ourselves.
Reusable bags greatly reduce plastic bag usage
A single reusable bag can save up to 22,000 plastic bags per year. While this constitutes a small dent in terms of the amount of plastic bags currently in use, if many individuals and companies across the world made a commitment to opt for reusable bags over plastic bags, the impact could be massive.
Furthermore, many reusable bags are able to be recycled, further reducing waste management issues and moving toward a more circular system. According to the waste hierarchy, recycling is the third best way to address waste behind prevention and reusing materials.
Those who truly want to help prevent plastic waste can turn to RPET reusable bags. These types of bags are made from reclaimed post-consumer plastic (like plastic bottles and other common single-use plastic items). This helps to reduce waste by avoiding plastic bags and making use of plastic waste that may have otherwise ended up in a landfill.
Although one person using a reusable bag won’t prevent ocean-bound plastic, it’s clear that a concerted, worldwide effort by individuals and companies alike will eventually make a noticeable difference when it comes to ocean-bound plastic waste.
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