Imagine a world without plastic shopping
bags. It could be the future.
There is a growing international movement to
ban or discourage the use of plastic bags because of their environmental
effects. Countries from Ireland to Australia have been cracking down on the bags
and action has begun to stir in the United States.
The ubiquitous plastic shopping bag, so handy
for everything from toting groceries to disposing of doggie doo, may be a victim
of its own success. Although plastic bags didn’t come into widespread use
until the early 1980s, environmental groups estimate that 500 billion to 1
trillion of the bags are now used worldwide every year.
Critics of the bags say they use up natural
resources, consume energy to manufacture, create litter, choke marine life and
add to landfill waste.
“Every time we use a new plastic bag they go
and get more petroleum from the Middle East and bring it over in tankers,” said
Stephanie Barger, executive director of Earth Resource Foundation in Costa Mesa,
Calif. “We are extracting and destroying the Earth to use a plastic bag
for 10 minutes.”
The tax proposals are loosely modeled on
Ireland’s “PlasTax,” a levy of about 20 cents that retail customers have had to
pay for each plastic bag since March 2002. The use of plastic bags in Ireland
dropped more than 90 percent following imposition of the tax, and the government
has raised millions of dollars for recycling programs.
Similar legislation was introduced in
Scotland and is being discussed for the rest of the United
Consumers seem agreeable to giving up the
bags. “There certainly hasn’t been an angry uprising of shoppers (in
Ireland) saying we want our bags for free,” said Claire Wilton, senior waste
campaigner at Greenpeace-UK. “I think a lot of people recognize they are
wasteful. That’s why they try to save them to use again, although they often
forget to bring them with them when they shop.”
In Australia, about 90 percent of retailers
have signed up with the government’s voluntary program to reduce plastic bag
One of the key concerns is litter. In China,
plastic bags blowing around the streets are called “white pollution.” In South
Africa, the bags are so prominent in the countryside that they have won the
derisive title of “national flower.”
One of the most dramatic impacts is on marine
life. About 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals are
killed by plastic bags each year worldwide, according to Planet Ark, an
international environmental group. The bags were the fifth most common item of
debris found on beaches.
But the plastic industry maintains that
plastic bags are not the root of all evil. The solution to bag litter is to
change people, not the product. The problems with litter, they say, are due to
irresponsible people and plastic bags, they’re quick to point out, are better
for the environment than paper bags. Is this true?
As it turns out, we’re no better off (and may
actually be worse off) using paper bags than plastic ones. Consider these
facts from US Environmental Protection Agency:
* Paper bags generate 70 percent more air
pollution and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
* It takes 91 percent less energy to recycle
a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper.
* Paper bags take up more landfill space
(2,000 plastic bags weight just 30 pounds, whereas 2,000 paper bags weight 280
* Paper bags in landfills don’t break down
much faster than plastic bags (because they’re not exposed to water, light,
oxygen and other elements that they need to biodegrade).
So we’re not necessarily better switching
from plastic bags to paper ones. Paper bags still account for a huge amount of
wasted energy and refuse that is unnecessary. “Every piece of litter has a
human face behind it. If they are a harm to the environment in terms of visual
blight, then people need to stop littering,” said Rob Krebs, a spokesman for
the American Plastics Council.
More than waiting for penalties, the
challenge is convincing citizens to change their habits. We have to go back to
our grandmothers’ habits.
2. discourage: 阻止，阻拦。
3. crack down on:(对……)采取严厉措施;stir:
7. petroleum: 石油;bring it over in tankers:
用液货船(或罐车)把它运过来;executive director: 执行董事。
8. extract: 榨取。
11. legislation: 立法。
12. agreeable: 同意的，愿意的。
13. uprising: 起义，暴动。
14. prominent: 突出的，显眼的;derisive:
15. seal: 海豹。
16. debris: 垃圾，碎片。
17. better off: 较自在，较幸运;worse off:
18. generate: 产生;pollutant: 污染物。
19. oxygen: 氧气;biodegrade: 生物降解。
20. refuse: 废料，垃圾。
21. visual: 视觉的;blight: 毁坏。