THE INTRODUCTION of a charge for plastic bags at Massy Stores has brought renewed focus on the need to be environmentally conscious. The supermarket chain is to be commended for this initiative and other retailers should follow suit.
For some shoppers, having to pay for every plastic bag might seem like a high premium. But when we consider the extent of the problem, a 50-cent charge is a drop in a rather costly bucket.
There are more plastic bags on Earth than people. Approximately 500 billion are used worldwide every year. That’s one million every minute.
Massy Stores alone produces millions of plastic bags annually. And while many shoppers say they will recycle their bags by using them for rubbish, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.
About half the plastic we use, we use just once and throw it away.
The effect of these bags, particularly on the marine environment, is well documented. Animals ranging from large whales to microscopic zooplankton are affected. Last month, a whale in southern Thailand died after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags. The local cherished leatherback turtle is often a victim, mistaking bags for its favoured meal of fresh jellyfish.
Humans, too, are choking on plastic. When burned at rubbish dumps, the bags release poisonous chemicals that lead to respiratory problems.
Some dioxins have also been linked to reproductive and developmental problems, immune deficiency, hormonal imbalance, and cancer. The chemicals also get into the soil. The entire food chain is contaminated.
The polyethylene in these bags is also a by-product of petroleum and natural gas, contributing to the greenhouse effect and our climate change problem.
Environmentalists might be tempted to say while the Massy charge is laudable, it does not go nearly far enough. These bags should be banned outright, they might argue, as they already are in Hawaii, South Africa, China, Taiwan, Macedonia, Italy, Japan, and Ethiopia. After all, big chains like Starbucks have committed to banning plastic items like straws by 2020.
But even the longest journey begins with one step.
Massy has been accused of profiteering by some irate social media users. They say profits from the sale of the bags – as well as alternative reusable receptacles – should be diverted to charitable organisations doing environmental work.
While they may have a point, this ignores the benefits to be gained by addressing consumer habits.
And if a company profits from a good cause that is to the advantage of society as a whole, so be it. In fact, profits might be a good thing when it comes to making other companies similarly responsible.
TT must do its part to save the planet.
It’s our duty to bag the plastic problem.