How many plastic bags do you collect on a shopping journey? Most shops in the Western world now realise how damaging plastic is and actively encourage customers to reduce or completely avoid the use of plastic bags. We’ve all seen the reusable bags at the counter of most supermarkets.
A shopping trip in Koh Lanta is a very different experience however. There are no reusable bags, just the plain old plastic type. Whatever you buy, however small, is always placed in a bag. The only way to prevent this is to tell the checkout staff that you don’t want a bag. But that doesn’t always work. The other day I made a purchase and told the teller I didn’t want a bag. He told me that it was best that I took one, and put my items in a bag anyway!
- A lone bag sits on our pier!
The problem with plastic is the amount of time they take to degrade. They can take anywhere between 10 to 450 years to break down in water. Just think about that for a minute. One plastic bag is going to be in the water for generations to come.
A large quantity of these bag end up in the oceans, and that’s when the problems really start to occur. In Cairns, Australia, a Bryde whale was found washed up on the beach with 6 metres of plastic inside it. As the plastic takes so long to degrade, when the animal decays, so the plastic is released back into the environment, having the potential to kill again and again. One issue is that the plastic can be mistaken for food. Turtles often mistake plastic for jellyfish and when they ingest them, the plastic can prevent digestion of food and eventually kills them. It is estimated that up to 100,000 turtles are killed each year due to plastic.
Use of biodegradable and degradable bags has increased, but these still take time to degrade and uses valuable resources in their manufacture.
- Re-usable bags
So, what is the answer? The first step to living an environmentally friendly lifestyle are the 3 R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle. The best way to deal with the impact of plastic bags on the environment is to reduce the use of plastic bags, or stop using them altogether. Buy bags that can be used repeatedly, or take a backpack or shopping trolley to the supermarket. Remember when you are in the shop that most assistants will automatically give you a bag. Stop and think about that. If you can carry an item without a bag, then do so.
If we can stop plastic bags entering the oceans, then we can save the lives of many thousands of the beautiful creatures that we encounter when we dive. Surely this is a worthwhile cause.