March 29, 2018

Economic & Environmental Impacts Of Disposable Bags

While many people have made steps in the right direction by reusing bags they accumulate from regular shopping trips, free plastic shopping bags are still ubiquitous around the world. Using these thin plastic bags when shopping is not only harmful to the environment, it has negative economic effects as well. Let’s take a closer look at some of those impacts.

Disposal of Plastic Bags

Once a disposable plastic bag has served its purpose, most people throw them away, where they eventually end up in a landfill or waste processing plant where they are burned. Burning plastic waste is harmful to the environment because toxic gases are released into the atmosphere. This only contributes to the growing global plastic waste epidemic impacting air quality and water purity.

Environmental Impact

Even when plastic waste is managed responsibly, bags that have been disposed of are likely to be blown away by storms or gusts of wind. Since these bags are not biodegradable, they tend to remain where they’ve been displaced for an extensive amount of time.

While recycling these bags seems like a viable option, most recycling facilities typically burn them or send them to a landfill after sorting. This is due to the high cost and difficulty of recycling plastic bags. Studies have shown that less than 1% of all bags sent are actually recycled.

Economic Impacts

As well as having a notable negative impact on the environment, plastic bags are proving to be an economic liability. Plastic bags are relatively cheap to produce, but manufacturers make very little profit and, since polyethylene bags are produced from fossil fuels, production contributes to an annual decrease in the fossil fuel supply, affecting gasoline prices, heating oil and other necessary products.

The fishing and tourism industries are particularly hard it by plastic waste. As bags decompose, they release toxic chemicals which harm the marine life that the fishing industry is built on. And, areas that rely on tourism spend an enormous amount of money on litter control – a lot of it plastic bags. A recent study showed that more than $130 million was spent annually on litter cleanup in just one Australian state.

Possible Alternatives

There are multiple alternatives to plastic bags that are less harmful overall, like paper bags. Although paper bags are not much more preferable than their plastic counterparts since production requires lumber.

There are regions that have introduced reusable plastic bags that are more durable, therefore less are thrown away. The most preferable substitute is reusable cloth bags that considerably cut down on waste. With companies such as, it’s easy to start making the right decisions when it comes to the grocery bags you use.

How to Help

Taking necessary steps to decrease youruse of disposable plastic bags can make a noticeable change in your community and quality of life. With all of the organizations and efforts being made to reduce the use of disposable plastic bags, it’s never been easier to start making a positive impact.


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