Why We Should Care

Travel & Environment Desk
Why We Should Care
Why We Should Care

Iranian activists mark July 12 “Plastic Bag-Free Day” to raise public awareness about the myriads of environmental problems associated with the use and misuse of this modern-day convenience.

In 1965, a Swedish company called Celloplast devised a way to commercialize high-density polyethylene. Their design involved a tube of plastic sealed at the bottom to allow for the packaging of items, an open top to insert those items and handles for convenient carrying. Thus, the plastic bag was invented and with it came a plethora of environmental challenges.

  Why We Do Not Care

Plastic bags are cheap, easy to use and sturdy. It is hardly surprising then that they are found in almost every grocery store.

However, many people are not aware of the environmental impacts of plastic bags and a great many who know about the problems caused by them cite the fact that plastic bags are very low priority in the face of other environmental issues of more critical concern.

But if an environmental problem does not directly impact the human species, does it mean it is less important? The answer is a resounding “No!”

  Chain of Problems

Plastic bags are not biodegradable; in other words, they are not decomposed by biological agents such as bacteria.

They do, however, break down after 100 to 500 years. Once broken down, they release toxic chemicals that contain flame retardants and plasticizers among others, which seep into soils, lakes, rivers and the oceans. Some of those chemicals can cause hormonal imbalance that gives rise to several health problems.

Plastic bags are especially harmful to marine animals and are one of the most common garbage found on the shores of Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf.

Marine animals, mostly sea turtles, tend to confuse plastic litter in the oceans for food. The plastic blocks the digestive tract and causes death. Scientists have discovered male fish with female sexual organs because the chemicals cause an overproduction of estrogen.

  The Man Who Moves a Mountain

In Tehran, 7,500 tons of waste are produced daily, 1,000 tons of which are plastic. Experts believe if every household in the Iranian capital used one plastic bag less every week, it would lead to 816 million less bags used in a year.

According to the website Earth 911, reusing or recycling one ton of plastic means the equivalent of saving 11 barrels of oil.

Most developed nations have laws in place to reduce or ban plastic bag consumption, or have taken measures to promote the use of reusable, biodegradable material. In Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, plastic bags are taxed, while Italy banned the use of single-use plastic bags in 2010.

The environmental hazards of plastic bags should be widely publicized in Iran. Plastic Bag-Free Day is not an officially recognized event; it is not mentioned on the Iranian calendar and it not promoted across the country.

To address the problem, the Department of Environment must step forward and lead the movement to reduce plastic consumption and encourage the use of eco-friendly alternatives. Organizing events and incorporating environmental studies in school curricula can help ingrain a sustainable, environmentally-friendly lifestyle and culture.

While it may be true that the issue of plastic bags is a small problem in the overall scheme of things, but the profound effect that reducing plastic bag consumption may have on the environment can set the stage for addressing more pressing issues.

Confucius said it best when he wrote, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”