Reducing Our Waste Pickup: Finding Alternative to Single Use Plastic Bags

Waste Pickup In Auckland & Single Use Plastic Bags

plastic waste pickup

It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that plastic bags have been in the news again in recent months. In February, a Greenpeace petition with over 65,000 signatures, urging New Zealand’s politicians to ban plastic bags was presented to Parliament, and several campaigns promoting a ban on single use plastic bags are highly visible across the media. With current and former politicians supporting a ban, and a number of New Zealand supermarkets agreeing to stop using plastic bags at the the end of this year, it seems like the right time to remind ourselves of the environmental harm which the everyday plastic bag can cause, and to look at some of the alternatives which could be replacing plastic bags in our daily lives.

Experts guess that, in a single year at least 500 billion plastic bags are used and discarded globally. The effects of these bags on the ecological systems of both land and sea are devastating. Australian scientists have concluded that 52 percent of turtles in the world’s oceans have ingested pieces of plastic, and a large amount of this is likely to have come from plastic bags originally. Sea mammals, such as porpoises, are a common victim of the several hundred million plastic bags which find their way into the Atlantic Ocean. Porpoises’ diet of jellyfish and sea nettles makes them liable to mistake a plastic bag for food, most often with fatal consequences. Even if they do not suffocate when they ingest the bag, internal obstruction usually prevents them digesting anything else they manage to eat, resulting in eventual death either from poisoning or starvation.

On land, a similar fate often befalls both wild and domesticated animals. In India, where much-venerated cows are abundant and waste pickup infrastructure scarce, it is not uncommon for cows to die as a result of consuming plastic bags which have been discarded, and found their way to where cows graze. Autopsies have found 50 or more plastic bags inside some cows, causing them to feel artificially full and eventually to perish from malnutrition. While many plastic bags end up in landfill, it is well known that they take an extremely long time to degrade. Compared to month, which can decompose in as little as a month, plastic bags can remain intact for decades, or possibly even hundreds of years, and in fact they never properly integrate. Rather, the pieces of bag just get smaller smaller, leaving tiny pieces of plastic in the environment.

Few recycling plants actually recycle plastic bags, because of the expense and the difficulty involved. The plastic used is hard to reuse and tricky to melt down, and custom-built facilities are usually required; as a result, 99% of the bags sent to recycling plants around the world never actually get recycled. Here in New Zealand we are lucky enough to have a soft plastic drop-off recycling scheme at a number of major supermarkets and retailers, but this has to be funded by the businesses supporting the scheme, due to the expense involved. Amazingly, some of the plastic bags collected under this project have been turned into outdoor benches, bollards and wheel stops, all of which are available for purchase!

While recycling has therefore had some success, the long-term solution seems to be finding a replacement for the existing single use plastic bag. What sort of replacement is likely to catch on? Already, reusable bags are a well-known and popular alternative among New Zealand shoppers. Some of these bags are actually made from recycled PET plastic, but they are also made from a variety of plant fibres, and some home craft experts even recommend making bags from old shirts! Less well-known alternatives to plastic bags for fresh produce are mesh and silicon bags, which can be taken home, washed, and reused. Undoubtedly most promising for those of us who hate inconvenience, however, are the recent advances in bioplastics. These are plastics which have been manufactured from renewable plant sources: for example, peas or vegetable oil. Some of these plastics are actually compostable, meaning that they will decompose in a compost bin within several months. Others will break down in regular landfill over several years, or after exposure to water and UV light.

New Zealand and many other countries around the world are only now facing up to the issue of plastic bags, but the good news is that there are plenty of promising alternatives and solutions out there. But even with the eventual demise of the single use plastic bag, the need for waste pickup will continue: if an environmentally conscious rubbish removal company is what you are looking for then give Junk2Go a call today!