The Truth About Plastic Bags–The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Published On November 4, 2010

When it comes to versatility, durability and variety, plastic is one of the most valuable materials out there. According to the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), “the benefits of plastics are unmatched by any other material. It is light, easily shaped, strong, and inexpensive. Its ability to guard against contamination makes it useful in sterile medical environments such as hospitals.” The problem, of course, is that when we started making our shopping bags out of the stuff the world went crazy for it, creating so much plastic waste that our environment has smothered and choked as a result. It is as much the way in which we consume and waste as well as the material used that makes plastic bags such a problem, which is why we need to look at both sides of the story.

The Good

Firstly, there are some ways in which plastic bags can be used sustainably. There’s a growing trend in fashion of accessories and even garments being made from recycled plastic bags–at the moment they’re more of a small-time market novelty, but were a company to put serious money behind it, we could solve some of the issues with landfill in a heartbeat. Secondly, the actual manufacturing of plastic bags is said to consume less energy than their paper cousins. According to the Biofuels Watch website, “Plastic bags can be melted and remoulded, and can subsequent be remoulded and made into plastic lumber in order to be used on such things as park benches and in fencing material.” So there. Not ALL bad.

The Bad

Having said this, plastic bags are manufactured using natural gas, which is non-renewable, which means from the outset they’re consuming resources. Add to this that most plastic bags end up in landfill which has a detrimental effect on everything from surrounding wildlife, to the Eco system and our general health.

The Ugly

“Plastic bags are not biodegradable, meaning that they cannot be broken down to assume their natural, organic state. Even under ideal conditions, they would photodegrade over a periods of between 500-1,000 years.” Say Biofuels Watch. “This means that plastic waste stays in our overall ecosystem for a very long time, and also means that every bit of plastic produced since its inception over 50 years ago is still with us. That amounts to an awful lot of plastic waste.”

While plastic itself may not be the only issue, it’s clear we need to find other materials and that we need to consume them in more sustainable ways. It’s not all bad news for businesses though. Many businesses have jumped on the sustainable train and are creating re-useable promotional bags with their branding on them. This way, when people use your promotional bags to do their shopping, you’ve created a walking advertisement–that’s good for our planet!