Plastic is any material that is rigid or slightly elastic and can be transformed into different shapes without changing the components of the original substance. The use of plastic can be traced back to the 18th century where the first plastic like materials was manufactured.
Over the years, there has been an enhancement in the development of the plastic industry. Though in the beginning, plastic were declared as a good development for the human population where they had a lot of uses for it, in the current years plastic has become a menace and a threat to the environment and the human population as a whole. This paper is meant to discuss the policies that are put in place regarding plastic use and the weaknesses and recommendation of the same.
In the last 60 years, plastic waste has become a pollutant threat that the accumulation and effects on the oceans has led to a questioning and policy challenge that has now begun to affect the usage of plastic bags in certain cities and even at a statewide level in California. The banning of plastic bags is one step in the right direction but this also requires collective cooperation and fines to deter behavior much like the way citations are meant to alter a behavior against excessive speeding or lack of focus due to cell phone usage.
The use of plastic bags has made life easier in different ways. In the past, one had to carry a basket to the market whenever they had to shop. This was due to the fact that stores did not offer any form of package for goods unlike today where one can drop into the grocery store on their way from work without carrying any form of basket, and they will get served and their goods will also be well packaged in the plastic bags
Plastic has helped a lot by the fact that it is lighter to carry. Its manufacturing process is also not very expensive compared to other products that can serve the same purpose. This has led to the increase in the number of plastics around the world and also the overwhelming disposal of this product. There have been ways put in place to regulate how this product is disposed off such as recycling which has been implemented in many countries around the world. This has not solved the problem though. (Warner, 2009) Most of the garbage that is disposed off around the world is plastic, and it is for this reason that controlling the use and disposal of plastic has become a problem.
The first step is to comprehend how the negative effects of plastic has led to the state where we as a society now stand. The organization Plastic Oceans states: “We have produced more plastic in the last 10 years than we did in the whole of the last century and this plastic production is having a huge impact. It is using vast amounts of precious oil reserves; approximately 8% which equates to the amount used by the whole of Africa. Almost half of the plastic we use is used just once and is then thrown away-the problem is that there is no “away” (Plastic Oceans)
Plastic wastes have been especially dangerous on the lives of marine animals. This is because most of the plastic that is dumped into the ocean ends up being eaten by the animals that live in the water. This has contributed to the extinction of many of the animals that live under the sea, and whenever they are checked for the cause of death there is always a plastic substance in their stomachs. This is very dangerous considering the fact that most of these animals are very few.
Therefore, the problem identified is the usage of plastic in a high volume and the discarding of it without any efforts of multiple usages that can prevent the accumulation of plastic in ocean that not only pollutes but also suffocates the sea life.
The first impact that we need to comprehend is the effect of plastic waste on sea life that will also have to include humans. The first negative effect according to Plastic Oceans is that over 250 species have been known to have ingested or become in tangle, followed up by an entanglement rate of 7.9% in some species in seals and sea lions. In addition, it is known that there are over 100 species of sea birds that have ingested plastic as well as 31 species of marine mammals. Lastly marine litter has resulted in an increase of species invasion as well as the introduction of non-endemic species that can have a deadly affect as the organisms mix. Ostrowski writes: “As the students learn during one session, 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean every year. Every minute, 1.4 million plastic bags are used worldwide; each year, 50 billion plastic water bottles are discarded in the U.S. The result is what UC Santa Barbara scientists estimate to be 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans (Orlowski, n.d).” As the quote shows, it’s not just plastic bags but plastic bottles too though due to human behavior.
The most obvious effect on the Pacific Ocean side which is being studied is the effect on humans which is currently being studied. According to Aaron Orlowski, of the Orange County Register, if the fish eat the plastic and the human consume the fish and last never disappears, are humans also consuming the plastic? Orlowski writes: “That plastic breaks down, but it never really disappears. Small fish gobble it up. Their bodies can’t process it, and it ends up passing into the larger fish that eat those smaller fish, and on up the food chain”.
When viewing the negative of effects of plastic this way then we can view how in the long run, human’s disposing habits can literally be causing themselves to suffocate thus it is not just sea life at stake. And not that human are superior to sea animals because they are not, the worry should for all forms of life but because the ocean is part of our food chain we must pain attention as it is also a large ocean park. Case in point, scientists discovered fire retardants in the blubber of killer whales in the Seattle area known as Puget Sound or that sea lion pups do not survive high concentrations of PCB which is a chemical used in paint. Nursing results in their death because the chemical is found in the mother’s milk. The question that is posed is what to do and it returns to humans and their creative processes.
There are several policies that have been put in place to regulate the use of plastics such as; banning single use carry out bags, charging of fees on the single use carry out bags, ban on the use of plastic bags and many other different techniques. The plastic industry has been the source of employment for many people over the years. It has been very beneficial to different kinds of employees, both skilled and unskilled. (Clapp et al., 2009) Plastics have proved to be very beneficial in many different fields such as making medical products and making products that are used to make vehicles lighter and fuel efficient. Though this is the case, the underlying problem it has caused is very major. Plastics have been linked to causing some serious health problems such as some cancers and infertility issues.
The article by Orlowski states that cutting plastic is essential by not producing it because waste management becomes important but if there is less created less can be disposed of. The first major ban has been the elimination of plastic bags but also means including micro beads that are tiny pieces of face wash and other products that companies call exfoliates, no Styrofoam, reusable bags to switching to glass straws.
After the realization that plastics were becoming a problem in the community, different policies had to be put in place by the relevant authorities to ensure that the plastics did not cause more harm to the public. The most commonly used kind of plastic which is the single use plastic bag is the one that had to be regulated more than the other kinds of plastic. This is due to the fact that it is the one that is most associated with the different kinds of problems caused by plastics. Many states resorted to completely banning the plastic bags or charging for their use.
(Carter et al., 2005)The main challenge with the use of plastics is the fact that it does not decompose when discarded with other forms of waste. This has made it a challenge especially on the part of garbage disposal where when it is put together with other types of garbage, it can prove to be a threat to nature. Some of the plastic materials have chemicals that can harm wildlife and thus they should not come into contact with the said wildlife. It is the responsibility of the human population which is also the manufacturer and user of plastics to ensure that the product is handled safely.
The first attempt to getting rid of plastic bags in California was not really a state wide effort but more based on a city by city, thus Huntington Beach because they are a beach city was the first to end the practice though if a person traveled to Fountain Valley or Costa Mesa, neighbor cities they could get their items in plastic bags issued by the city. Creating an inconsistency in how to handle possible waste which is why the Governor of California Jerry Brown pushes for a law that would ban plastic bags in all of California to have uniformity.
Plastics have been reported by many people to be the cause of death of different animals due to ingestion. The fact that these bags are not disposed of well make it very easy for animals to eat them while feeding on grass and other types of food. When the animals ingest these bags, their bodies cannot digest the bags thus leading to complications in their bodies that eventually causes death. These animals include; livestock, goats, camels and other home grown animals.
The research that has been carried out concerning the use of plastic states that the current production of plastics is not sufficient for the human population and thus there should be an increase in the production of the plastic products. This however shows that it will bring more challenges if the current ones are not yet addressed.
The law to ban plastic use in California was challenged by different groups that felt it would affect their work and earnings. This happened in every municipality that tried to introduce the policy. These lawsuits were successful in delaying the enactment of the laws on plastic bags but in the end it was successful in different municipalities. The law in California states that no one should package goods using single use plastic bags, but instead they are to use the reusable paper bag or pay for the use of a recycled paper bag. The state of California has continued to pursue the ban on thin plastic bags and enforcement of charges on paper and even reusable bags. This is all with the aim of reducing the pollution caused by the use of plastics.
The ban of plastics in California has come as a relief to many who do not understand the serious consequences that it will have on the people of California. This move will have serious economic consequences for the state of California this will apply to both businesses and shoppers. The ban on the use of plastic bags will render many people jobless, and it will transfer most of the income from California to china where they recycle plastics. The grocers will also make money from the paper bag sold which is a serious financial constraint on the consumers.
Though well intended it turned out to be narrow minded because it only focused on plastic bags that most people use especially poorer households which accounts for 23% of the total state population and did not address Styrofoam, plastic bottles though recycling is helpful because there is an income incentive but other forms of plastic such as larger trash bags was not addressed. Because there were so many holes it is of no coincidence that implementation was delayed to 2016 and voters of California will vote on this measure in November of the upcoming year.
The Associated Press covered the story and quoted a spokesperson that supports ending the ban: “But the American Progressive Bag Alliance said the ban amounts to a cash giveaway to grocers that would lead to job losses. “California voters will now have the chance to vote down a terrible law that, if implemented, would kill 2,000 local manufacturing jobs and funnel obscene profits to big grocers without any money going to a public purpose or environmental initiative,” the group’s executive director, Lee Califf, said in a news release.” The group fighting the ban is not wrong as lively hoods are at stake and they cannot be ignored because they have a valid point which poses the question how best to solve this issue. As the other article presented, it is also micro beads, Styrofoam and PCB which is the point not being address.
Yet while the state waits for its November referendum the city of Sacramento has voted to ban plastic bags because they want to protect the rivers and increase recycling. The city compiled a report and presented the following facts: “According to a report compiled by city staff, nearly 14 million plastic bags are given out in Sacramento every month. California retailers distribute about 19 billion bags per year, or 522 per person, according to Californians Against Waste. But less than 5 percent of those bags are recycled.” (Sacramento Bee) The city report that the single bags accepted for recycling still clog the sorting machine thus it takes it a toll on production but the ban is on single plastic bag users such as supermarkets, pharmacies and liquor stores. They are providing recycled free bags to women on WIC Women Infants and Children but still allow supermarkets to charge ten cents to customers who want to buy a bag.
The point that it has to be a system wide approach is valid because it is a hassle going to the store and not having a bag or even using a reusable bag that collects dust from fruit runoff or packaged meat that has blood run off is also a problem. Yet Plastic Ocean shows that the chemical additives in plastic is found and persistent organic pollutants are having negative health effects such cancer, diabetes, low sperm count as well as lowered I.Q., lowered reading and social skills as well as memory and attention problems.
(Caron et al., 2015)This law poses a serious financial threat to the consumers who are struggling to live from pay check to the next. This is because no matter how little they may charge, people have fixed budgets and it would be very hard to pay for the bags. It will also make people resolve to steal especially the small grocery stores that do not have the resources to implement this law. This will be because when one comes into the store with their own bags, they might take some things that they will not pay for thus an increase in shoplifting. The other challenge this law will have is on the people who keep animals whose waste need plastic for disposal.
It will also have an impact on the areas surrounding California where the bags are not banned. This is because many people will not be buying plastics for the fear of accidentally using the bag in the ban areas but there can also be a rise in sales in surrounding areas depending on how the population receives the law.
The law in California is a serious threat to many people in terms of their jobs. This is because many of them will be laid off by their employers especially the grocery stores. This is due to the fact that the stores will no longer need some assistance that used the plastic bags.(Klick et al., 2012) It also poses a health risk to many because the many households that use the reusable paper bags do not have time to clean them and thus contributing to a buildup of bacteria. When the same bags with bacteria are used to store food then the household is at risk of falling sick.
Therefore in conclusion, the banning of plastic bags is a partial start but it has to include other equally dangerous elements such as Styrofoam, micro beads, persistent organic pollutants and PCB chemical as well as enforcing fines that alter waste disposal behavior or lack of from properly disposing to not throwing cigarette endings in the beach. It is much broader than just plastic bags but because not enough recycling is done starting here as uncomfortable as it is, it can prevent more runoff to the ocean which is part of our food source.
This image is from Plastic Ocean which is an environmental organization informing and trying to clean up the ocean.
Associated Press. “State’s plastic ban suspended by ballot referendum; voters to
decide 2016.” OC Register: February 24, 2015.
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Caron, J., Rausch, S., & Winchester, N. (2015). Leakage from Sub-National Climate Policy: The Case of California’s Cap-and-Trade Program. Energy Journal.
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Klick, J., & Wright, J. D. (2012). Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illness. U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper, (13-2).
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bags”.Sacramento Bee: March 31, 2015.
Orlowski, Aaron.(n.d) “Is plastic pollution eaten by seafood ending up back in us”?
OC Register: March 22, 2015
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