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Say No To Plastic Bags

The Shocking Facts About Polyethylene Bags

We can lessen our environmental footprint by minimizing our use of plastic shopping
bags. If we do so, our world will become a cleaner, safer place for all living things

Consider the Following Shocking Facts About Plastic Shopping Bags:

• Plastic bags are made of polyethylene

• Polyethylene is a petroleum product
• Production contributes to air pollution and energy consumption
• Four to five trillion plastic bags are manufactured each year
• Of those 100 trillion plastic bags, 1% are recycled
• It takes 1000 years for polyethylene bags to break down
• As polyethylene breaks down, toxic substances leach into the soil and enter
the food chain
• Approximately 1 billion seabirds and mammals die per year by ingesting
plastic bags
• Plastic bags are often mistaken as food by marine mammals. 100,000 marine
mammals die yearly by eating plastic bags.
• These animals suffer a painful death, the plastic wraps around their
intestines or they choke to death
• Plastic bag choke landfills
• Plastic bags are carried by the wind into forests, ponds, rivers, and lakes

There are Alternatives to Plastic Bags. All of This Death and Pollution
is Unnecessary

Countries all over the world are slowly becoming aware of the threat plastic bags present
to our world. Many have enacted laws aimed to decrease the use of plastic bags, while
others have, or are, planning to impose taxes on the use of plastic bags.

These forward thinking, socially conscious countries, cities and corporations should be
commended, but the reality is, none of these steps would be necessary if individuals
would make the same commitment, or if at the very least, people would do the following:

• Reuse plastic shopping bags and wraps

• Use wax paper instead of polyethylene products
• Utilize reusable shopping bags made of cloth or hemp
• Recycle your plastic shopping bags by returning them to the store
• If you forget your reusable shopping bag, opt for paper
• Minimize your garbage output by composting and recycling
• Write to your local and federal governments to demand environmentally-friendly
bags (they do exist)
• Tell others about the harmful impact of plastic bag usage

It might take a little planning and a little more time to say no to plastic bags, but by
putting life ahead of inconvenience, each and everyone of us can make a difference to the
health of our planet and to all of those living things that have no choice but to live or to
die because of the decisions we make.

Say NO to Plastic Bags

THE plastic bag is an accepted part of Australia’s shopping
culture, but it shouldn’t be. Each year we use 3.92 billion new
plastic shopping bags, many of which remain in the
The problem
Impact of plastic bags on the environment.
Natural resources

Plastics are made from nonrenewable natural resources such as crude oil, gas and coal. Just 8.7
checkout bags contain enough embodied petroleum energy to drive a car 1km.2
Persistence in the environment Non-biodegradable plastics bags can last in the environment for up to
1,000 years. Litter
Landscapes littered with plastic bags are hazardous to wildlife and visually unattractive. What’s more,
because plastic bags last so long, every year the number of plastic bags littering the environment are
accumulating. Plastic bags are lightweight and moisture resistant which means they float easily in air
and water, often travelling long distances. It is estimated that a total of between 50 and 80 million bags
enter the Australian environment as litter every year.2 Unless they are collected, they stay there. If 80
million plastic bags were made into a single plastic sheet, it would cover 16 square kilometres. Each
side of the plastic sheet would be 4km long and it would be big enough to cover the Melbourne CBD.
Clean up costs It has been estimated that it costs governments, businesses and community groups
over $4 million per annum to clean up littered plastic shopping bags. Marine life There are
approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in each square mile of our oceans. It is estimated that
plastic kills up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish each year. 3 90% of
Albatross chicks on Midway Island (a remote Pacific atoll) had plastic bag remnants in their gullets,
while turtles, dolphins and killer whales can choke or starve by confusing plastic bags for jellyfish.
Landfills An estimated, 3.76 billion or 20,700 tonnes of plastic bags are disposed of
in landfill sites throughout Australia
each year. Some plastic shopping
bags are disposed directly into the
waste stream, while many are reused
as garbage bags, and subsequently
sent to landfill.
Greenhouse gases
When oil, gas and coal are used to
produce plastic bags, they emit
dangerous greenhouse gases. The
burning of plastics also creates
emissions of toxic gases, dioxins and
heavy metals.
Greenhouse gases contribute to
worldwide climate change. Scientists
predict that such climate change will
impact on all our lives, especially in
the areas of agriculture and health.
Plastic bags are made from two types
of plastic:
1. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
bags - The thin ‘singlet-style’ bags
used by over 80% of retailers. 50%
of HDPE bags come from nonsupermarket
sources.2 This plastic
can easily be recycled.
2. Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
bags -The thicker bags used by less
than 20% of retailers, usually
department and boutique stores.
These bags are not currently
Did you know?
The average Australian
household uses 502 plastic
shopping bags every year.1
Australians dump 7,150
recyclable plastic bags into
landfill every minute or
429,000 every hour.
It takes 21,540 tonnes of
plastic to produce 3.92 billion
plastics bags.
If 3.92 billion plastic bags
were tied together, they
would circle the globe 24
Plastic shopping bags can be
returned to your supermarket
for recycling. Currently only
approximately 3% of bags
are being recycled.2
Plastic Bags and
Clean Up Australia Day
Each year on Clean Up
Australia Day we identify
plastic as the major source of
rubbish throughout Australia.
In 2005, 32% of all items
collected were plastic and
7% of all plastic items were
supermarket and retail
shopping bags.
In 2005, 12.7% of bags were
found at rivers/creeks,
followed by 10% found at
beach/coastal areas.
Saying NO is easy
In response to the plastic bag problem, Clean Up Australia
developed Say NO to Plastic Bags - a National Plastic Bag
Action and Awareness campaign.
The Campaign
Clean Up Australia is committed to
getting rid of lightweight plastic
shopping bags.
Saying NO to Plastic Bags brings
individuals, community, business,
government and environment groups
together to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse
and Recycle plastic bags.
By the end of 2005 participating
retailers committed to reducing the
number of plastic bags used by 50%.
Supermarkets achieved a 41%
reduction in use of plastic bags.
Overall, a reduction of 34% from 2002
to 2005 saved 2 billion bags from
being produced.1
Things you can do today
If you're only buying a couple of
items, consider carrying them.
When shopping, take reusable
alternatives like ‘green bags’,
calico bags, string bags, baskets or
boxes with you. Keep them in the
car, or put your car keys in them at
home so you don’t forget to take
them with you.
Consolidate purchases into one
bag rather than getting a new bag
at each store.
Be aware that the thicker
department store bags are
generally non-recyclable, so the
best action is to avoid taking them.
Count the number of plastic bags
you use and aim to reduce that
number each week.
Avoid putting items that already
have handles, eg. dog food and
nappies, into plastic bags.
Avoid using small plastic bags as
bin liners. Simply put your rubbish
straight into your household bin
and give the bin a quick rinse
afterwards then reuse the water on
your garden
Biodegradable (break down using
natural processes) and Degradable
(can use chemicals to break down)
plastic bags are becoming
available. However, be cautious
when using these bags, as there
are no standards in place to test
their effectiveness. Degradable
bags just break into smaller pieces
and can be even more damaging
to flora and fauna.
Reuse plastic bags at home for:
freezing food, packing children's
school lunches, storage of clothing
and other household items.
Keep a spare reusable shopping
bag in your handbag or wallet for
those times when you thought you
would not need a bag, but did.
It is estimated that in 2001-02,
approximately 180 million bags or
1,000 tonnes, were recycled. This
represents only 2.7% of all plastic
shopping bags.2 Help us to increase
that rate by:
Finding a local supermarket that
offers recycling facilities for plastic
supermarket bags and taking your
used plastic bags back for
recycling the next time you go
Returning unwanted plastic bags to
the driver for recycling if you have
your shopping delivered.
Turning bags inside out and
removing any receipts and food
scraps before recycling.
Contamination can cause
problems in production and
prevent recycled plastic from being
Approaching your local council to
see if they have plans to include
plastic bags in kerbside recycling.
Remember, if your council does
not provide plastic bag recycling,
don’t put plastic bags in with your
normal recycling; it can cause
major problems in processing.
1 Department of Environment and
Heritage, Plastic Retail Carry Bag Use
2002-2005 Consumption – end of year
report – Hyder Consulting.
2 Environment Australia,
Plastic Shopping Bags- Analysis of
Levies and Environmental Impacts
(Nolan ITU, 2002)
3 Australian Marine Conservation
4 Environmental Protection and
Heritage Council
5 EcoRecycle
6 NSW Department of Environment and
Shopper driven action:
If you can't find the recycling bin at
your supermarket, suggest to the
store manager to plastic
bags campaign.

Environmental issues
Plastics are durable and degrade very slowly; the molecular bonds that make plastic so
durable make it equally resistant to natural processes of degradation. Since the 1950s, one
billion tons of plastic have been discarded and may persist for hundreds or even
thousands of years.[21] In some cases, burning plastic can release toxic fumes. Burning the
plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) may create dioxin.[22] Also, the manufacturing of plastics
often creates large quantities of chemical pollutants. Prior to the ban on the use of CFCs
in extrusion of polystyrene (and general use, except in life-critical fire suppression
systems; see Montreal Protocol), the production of polystyrene contributed to the
depletion of the ozone layer; however, non-CFCs are currently used in the extrusion

By 1995, plastic recycling programs were common in the United States and elsewhere.
Thermoplastics can be remelted and reused, and thermoset plastics can be ground up and
used as filler, though the purity of the material tends to degrade with each reuse cycle.
There are methods by which plastics can be broken back down to a feedstock state.

To assist recycling of disposable items, the Plastic Bottle Institute of the Society of the
Plastics Industry devised a now-familiar scheme to mark plastic bottles by plastic type. A
plastic container using this scheme is marked with a triangle of three cyclic arrows,
which encloses a number giving the plastic type:

1. PET (PETE), polyethylene terephthalate, is commonly found in 2-liter soft drink

bottles, water bottles, cooking oil bottles, peanut butter jars.
2. HDPE, high-density polyethylene, is commonly found in detergent bottles and
milk jugs.
3. PVC, polyvinyl chloride, is commonly found in plastic pipes, outdoor furniture,
siding, floor tiles, shower curtains, clamshell packaging.
4. LDPE, low-density polyethylene, is commonly found in dry-cleaning bags,
produce bags, trash can liners, and food storage containers.
5. PP, polypropylene, is commonly found in bottle caps, drinking straws, yogurt
6. PS, polystyrene, is commonly found in "packing peanuts", cups, plastic tableware,
meat trays, take-away food clamshell containers.
7. There are also other types of plastics commonly found in certain kinds of food
containers, Tupperware, and Nalgene bottles.

Unfortunately, recycling of plastics has proven to be a difficult process. The biggest

problem is that it is difficult to automate the sorting of plastic wastes, making it labor
intensive. Typically, workers sort the plastic by looking at the resin identification code,
although common containers like soda bottles can be sorted from memory. Other
recyclable materials such as metals are easier to process mechanically. However, new
processes of mechanical sorting are being developed to increase capacity and efficiency
of plastic recycling.

While containers are usually made from a single type and color of plastic, making them
relatively easy to be sorted, a consumer product like a cellular phone may have many
small parts consisting of over a dozen different types and colors of plastics. In such cases,
the resources it would take to separate the plastics far exceed their value and the item is
discarded. However, developments are taking place in the field of active disassembly,
which may result in more consumer product components being re-used or recycled.
Recycling certain types of plastics can be unprofitable, as well. For example, polystyrene
is rarely recycled because it is usually not cost effective. These unrecycled wastes are
typically disposed of in landfills, incinerated or used to produce electricity at waste-to-
energy plants.

Biodegradable (compostable) plastics

Main article: Biodegradable plastic

Research has been done on biodegradable plastics that break down with exposure to
sunlight (e.g., ultra-violet radiation), water or dampness, bacteria, enzymes, wind
abrasion and some instances rodent pest or insect attack are also included as forms of
biodegradation or environmental degradation. It is clear some of these modes of
degradation will only work if the plastic is exposed at the surface, while other modes will
only be effective if certain conditions exist in landfill or composting systems. Starch
powder has been mixed with plastic as a filler to allow it to degrade more easily, but it
still does not lead to complete breakdown of the plastic. Some researchers have actually
genetically engineered bacteria that synthesize a completely biodegradable plastic, but
this material, such as Biopol, is expensive at present.[23] The German chemical company
BASF makes Ecoflex, a fully biodegradable polyester for food packaging applications.

Main article: Bioplastic

Some plastics can be obtained from biomass, including:

• from pea starch film with trigger biodegradation properties for agricultural
applications (TRIGGER).[24]
• from biopetroleum.[25]

Main article: Oxo Biodegradable

Oxo-biodegradable (OBD) plastic is polyolefin plastic to which has been added very
small (catalytic) amounts of metal salts. As long as the plastic has access to oxygen (as in
a littered state), these additives catalyze the natural degradation process to speed it up so
that the OBD plastic will degrade when subject to environmental conditions. Once
degraded to a small enough particle they can interact with biological processes to produce
to water, carbon dioxide and biomass. The process is shortened from hundreds of years to
months for degradation and thereafter biodegradation depends on the micro-organisms in
the environment. Typically this process is not fast enough to meet ASTM D6400
standards for definition as compostable plastics.

Price, environment, and the future

The biggest threat to the conventional plastics industry is most likely to be environmental
concerns, including the release of toxic pollutants, greenhouse gas, litter, biodegradable
and non-biodegradable landfill impact as a result of the production and disposal of
petroleum and petroleum-based plastics. Of particular concern has been the recent
accumulation of enormous quantities of plastic trash in ocean gyres.

For decades one of the great appeals of plastics has been their low price. Yet in recent
years the cost of plastics has been rising dramatically. A major cause is the sharply rising
cost of petroleum, the raw material that is chemically altered to form commercial plastics.

With some observers suggesting that future oil reserves are uncertain, the price of
petroleum may increase further. Therefore, alternatives are being sought. Oil shale and
tar oil are alternatives for plastic production but are expensive. Scientists are seeking
cheaper and better alternatives to petroleum-based plastics, and many candidates are in
laboratories all over the world. One promising alternative may be fructose.[26]

Common plastics and uses

A chair made with a polypropylene seat
Polypropylene (PP)
Food containers, appliances, car fenders (bumpers), plastic pressure pipe systems.
Polystyrene (PS)
Packaging foam, food containers, disposable cups, plates, cutlery, CD and
cassette boxes.
High impact polystyrene (HIPS)
Fridge liners, food packaging, vending cups.
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)
Electronic equipment cases (e.g., computer monitors, printers, keyboards),
drainage pipe.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
Carbonated drinks bottles, jars, plastic film, microwavable packaging.
Polyester (PES)
Fibers, textiles.
Polyamides (PA) (Nylons)
Fibers, toothbrush bristles, fishing line, under-the-hood car engine moldings.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
Plumbing pipes and guttering, shower curtains, window frames, flooring.
Polyurethanes (PU)
Cushioning foams, thermal insulation foams, surface coatings, printing rollers.
(Currently 6th or 7th most commonly used plastic material, for instance the most
commonly used plastic found in cars).
Polycarbonate (PC)
Compact discs, eyeglasses, riot shields, security windows, traffic lights, lenses.
Polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) (Saran)
Food packaging.
Polyethylene (PE)
Wide range of inexpensive uses including supermarket bags, plastic bottles.
Polycarbonate/Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (PC/ABS)
A blend of PC and ABS that creates a stronger plastic. Used in car interior and
exterior parts, and mobile phone bodies.

Special purpose plastics

Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
Contact lenses, glazing (best known in this form by its various trade names
around the world; e.g., Perspex, Oroglas, Plexiglas), aglets, fluorescent light
diffusers, rear light covers for vehicles. It forms the basis of artistic and
commercial acrylic paints when suspended in water with the use of other agents.
Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
Heat-resistant, low-friction coatings, used in things like non-stick surfaces for
frying pans, plumber's tape and water slides. It is more commonly known as
Polyetheretherketone (PEEK)
Strong, chemical- and heat-resistant thermoplastic, biocompatibility allows for
use in medical implant applications, aerospace moldings. One of the most
expensive commercial polymers.
Polyetherimide (PEI) (Ultem)
A high temperature, chemically stable polymer that does not crystallize.
Phenolics (PF) or (phenol formaldehydes)
High modulus, relatively heat resistant, and excellent fire resistant polymer. Used
for insulating parts in electrical fixtures, paper laminated products (e.g., Formica),
thermally insulation foams. It is a thermosetting plastic, with the familiar trade
name Bakelite, that can be molded by heat and pressure when mixed with a filler-
like wood flour or can be cast in its unfilled liquid form or cast as foam (e.g.,
Oasis). Problems include the probability of moldings naturally being dark colors
(red, green, brown), and as thermoset it is difficult to recycle.
Urea-formaldehyde (UF)
One of the aminoplasts and used as a multi-colorable alternative to phenolics.
Used as a wood adhesive (for plywood, chipboard, hardboard) and electrical
switch housings.
Melamine formaldehyde (MF)
One of the aminoplasts, and used as a multi-colorable alternative to phenolics, for
instance in moldings (e.g., break-resistance alternatives to ceramic cups, plates
and bowls for children) and the decorated top surface layer of the paper laminates
(e.g., Formica).
Polylactic acid (PLA)
A biodegradable, thermoplastic found converted into a variety of aliphatic
polyesters derived from lactic acid which in turn can be made by fermentation of
various agricultural products such as corn starch, once made from dairy products.
Plastarch material
Biodegradable and heat resistant, thermoplastic composed of modified corn
See also
• Conductive polymer
• Corn construction
• Molding (process)
o Flexible mold
o Injection molding
• Films
• Light activated resin
• Nurdle
• Organic light emitting diode
• Plastics engineering
• Plastics extrusion
• Plasticulture
• Progressive bag alliance
• Roll-to-roll processing
• Self-healing plastic
• Thermoforming
• Timeline of materials technology