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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Use the bag, spoil the climate

What’s that floating in the sky? It’s bird, it’s a plane, no wait … it’s a plastic bag! Plastic bags are convenient and easy to use but a hassle to store under the sink. They’re so ubiquitous that we often fail to really see them at all. However, recently, there have been multiple environmental movements to reduce this commonplace image.

We might not think about them, but the serious and damaging impact plastic bags have on our environment can’t be ignored any longer. Worldwide consumption of plastic bags is estimated at a minimum of 500 billion plastic bags per year. According to Bag It, each of these bags takes between 500 and 1000 years to photodegrade, though the decomposition timeline impossible to predict with any certainty. Yet, average use time per bag is only 12 minutes.

Though these numbers are startling, it gets worse. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, also called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is the most heavily studied ocean current on the planet. The garbage patch is an island of floating plastic, a plastic soup filled with billions of broken down pieces of plastic. According to Bag It, the ratio of plastic to food in the ocean is as much as 40:1. In other words, there is 40 times more plastic in the ocean than there is food for the animals that live there.
Plastic bags do more than just threaten the environment — they pose a hidden cost to consumers as well.

Kaitlyn Elkind is an undergraduate co-director of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona’s Students for Sustainability and oversees “Breaking the Bag Habit,” a project started by UA students petitioning for a plastic bag ban. According to Elkind, U-Mart in the Student Union Memorial Center used $9,500 worth of plastic bags in the last year.

With the adoption of a plastic bag ban, the Arizona Student Unions would save close to $10,000 every year. With all of the impending cuts from the state budget (thanks Gov. Doug Ducey!), Wildcat Country can use all the money-saving opportunities it can get.

However, this is not just about breaking the bag habit. In general, banning bags is a forward thinking policy. Many municipalities, states and even countries have banned bags. These policies have helped to clean up oceans, reduce litter in storm drains, on trees and telephone lines and in landfills. Other options include placing a fee on plastic bags, which have been known to reduce plastic bags — especially in Ireland, according to reuseit.com — but, overall, they aren’t as effective.

Since plastic bags are not recyclable in blue city of Tucson barrels, the city has to add money to its budget to de-gunk plastic bags from the machines in its facilities. It also has to pay to take the bags out of storm drains, as well as erect a fence on the Los Reales Landfill to reduce the litter flying out.

We use plastic bags and throw them out on a large scale seemingly due to an odd societal mantra: out of sight, out of mind. We use plastic bags because they are convenient. Plastic is also lighter than paper, making them easier for companies to transport. Overall, plastic bags are much easier for consumerism. You don’t have to think about anything to shop.

When it comes to plastic bags, the less we use, the better we are. Plastic bags do not entail the convenience we thought. They are unnecessary and quite costly. Using a reusable bag or just asking to carry your bottle of soda home in your hand, purse or backpack are simple fixes, but their benefits to the environment are huge.

There’s a popular saying in the environmental movement: “Think global, act local.” Every person can help. By reducing what we consume, we reduce the amount of waste in the oceans and environment in general.

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Maddy Bynes is a a_____. Follow her on Twitter.

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