Grasping at Straws? Banning plastic without further action won’t stem the tide

The Seychelles government has been banning plastic products from single use plastic bags to plastic straws one after the other. The reasons, from aesthetics to impacts on wildlife, are obvious. Governments in many countries are doing the same. But, banning these products without significant further action is putting a finger on a spigot at a time when we need to suppress the tidal wave, says the World Resources Institute. Whilst these laws may reduce the most visible form of plastic pollution, it could be at the expense of other environmental impacts. That’s because, somewhat ironically, disposable plastic bags require fewer resources to produce than paper, cotton or reusable plastic bags. You would need to reuse a paper bag at least 43 times for its per-use environmental impacts to be equal to or less than that of a typical disposable plastic bag used one time. An organic cotton bag must be reused 20,000 times to produce less of an environmental impact than a single-use plastic bag. That would be like using a cotton bag every day for nearly 55 years. As a society, we should think holistically about the products we use and their impacts. We can’t just ban bad products—we must invest in alternatives.