As of today, you’ll have to pay 5p for a bag in most shops, and people, including me, will probably grumble about it at some point when they get to the checkout and realise they have no bags. The papers have pushed the importance of reducing the 8.5 billion plastic bags that were given out last year, but not many have linked the impact of these 8+ billion bags to the environment, particularly the oceans. I think it’s important to be clear why this is a great move for conservation, even if it might be a bit annoying sometimes when you’re in a rush.
Here’s a reminder of just some of the damage that plastic does to the oceans.
Entanglements and ingestion
Marine life of all kinds regularly gets caught up in plastic bags, meaning they can’t open their mouths to feed or swim properly. Plastic takes such a long time to degrade that juvenile turtles and other marine life can get caught in plastic bags and packaging, and as they grow larger the plastic will restrict their growth.
Seabirds, fish and marine mammals can also ingest plastic, mistaking it for food. Scientists have dissected some individuals to find their stomachs full of plastic, indicating that they starved to death, or choked on the plastic.
Floating rubbish dumps
When ocean currents meet they swirl together in gyres, and so does anything that they are transporting. The Pacific Trash Vortex is one such area where the vast amounts of plastic and other marine debris which is being carried is forced together to form mats of plastic on the surface. Smaller fragments are also suspended in the water column and a huge heap can form on the seabed.
It’s well known that plastics take a long time to biodegrade. As they do they break down into smaller and smaller fragments and are often too small to be seen. Some plastics also reach the ocean in tiny form, such as the microbeads which are often used in cosmetics. Even tiny marine organisms such as zooplankton have been observed ingesting microplastics, indicating that it really has impacted all aspects of the oceans.
So this is why reducing plastic bags is so important, and the 5p charge is a step in the right direction. Cutting down on plastic bags by using bags we’ve already got is a way that we can help slow down the rate at which we are rapidly clogging up and poisoning the oceans.