Is path of environmental damage paved by good intentions? 

March 4, 2021

The recent plastic carryout bag ban Delaware has enacted as of Jan. 1 under House Bill 130 seems to be inadequate. Instead of promoting renewable, biodegradable, fiber-based carryout bags, stores give a thicker plastic bag under the idea that it’s reusable. This implementation will not help the chronic problem of single-use plastics from ending up within the environment. 

Plastics are a relatively new and useful tool that we have created; however, it doesn’t come without its problems. Increasingly, single-use plastic ends up in the environment, polluting the land and waterways where they’re eventually consumed by animals and work their way up the food chain. Micro plastics are now being found in the tissue and flesh of plants and animals. The plastic bag is one of these products.

Invented in 1965 by the Swedish company Celloplast, it would take 17 years for them to be commonplace when in 1982 Kroger and Safeway replaced their paper bags with plastic. Since then, plastic bags have become commonplace and a concern for environmentalists and conservationists. Now new strategies and policies are being put into effect to reduce the amount of plastic bag waste. However, their implementation is lacking critical thinking and is sometimes even more damaging. Such as what can be seen in Delaware House Bill 130, by making a plastic bag heavier duty it is deemed reusable. Of course they could be recycled, but a majority of plastic bags will still end up in landfills, waterways, and other natural environments. By being thicker it also increases the risk of entrapping wildlife or injuring them when ingested. What needs to be done is an emphasis on policies that promote renewable and naturally biodegradable single-use items such as bags. 

Plant fibers have been used for centuries, ranging from clothing to books, and still have many uses today. One of their best attributes is the ability to be broken down and assimilated back into the environment once they are discarded if decided not to be recycled. Traditionally, wood pulp has been used in the making of paper bags but has become a target due to the concerns of forest conservation and the amount of time it takes for trees to be harvestable. Yet there are many more plants that can be gown and cultivated for the purpose of fiber.

One of these plants is hemp. Hemp is once again being brought up in discussions around renewable resources and products such as bags. Being that per acre, hemp outperforms wood in pulp production and can be harvested once or twice annually compared to that of forests. This pulp then can be turned into paper products such as bags that will naturally break down, and it comes from a renewable resource. This in turn would greatly reduce the amount of non-biodegradable plastic that ends up in the environment yearly. Along with creating another commodity crop and the industries that would follow.  

Policies need to be implemented to encourage and promote the growth of new industries around renewable resources and reducing pollution. Not hampered through poor decision-making and litigation, so that people, animals, and the environment can benefit from the policies. 

However, what we see is Delaware House Bill 130; it has good intentions but is lacking in actually solving the issue at hand. Still allowing single-use plastics such as bags to pollute the environment and to be tossed into landfills where they will never degrade, whereas plant fiber-based alternatives could be widely used if good decision-making and policy were enacted.

Jonathan Bender
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