Do Plastic Bag Bans Actually Help With Ocean Pollution?
The results are in.
In the past decade, single-use plastic bags have become a legislative target in many parts of the US—some want ‘em, some want to tax ‘em, and some want to do away with them for good.
But, while plenty of research exists to support the problematic amount of microplastics in the sea, the evidence around the effectiveness of banning plastic bags in particular has been lacking.
That’s now changed, thanks to a 25-year study conducted around the coastal seas of Northwest Europe. Over a quarter-century, researchers trawled the seabeds nearly 2,500 times (beginning in 1992), producing results that are troubling in some instances—but in some ways quite promising.
Related: Meet Our 2017 Ocean Heroes:
First, the good news: Since the UK began implementing taxes on single-use plastic bags, the amount of bags recovered in the greater North Sea have plummeted, according to the study. This makes sense, considering that in England alone, the tax led to an 80 percent drop in plastic bag use across the country (eliminating 9 billion bags total!).
But despite the gains from the plastic bag decline, deep-sea pollution overall remains a problem to contend with. Of the researchers’ nearly 2,500 trawls, 63 percent of them contained at least one plastic litter item. And while plastic bags are down, other plastics such as bottles and fishing debris are up, according to the Independent.
So while you may be a reusable shopping bag convert already (and if not, you should be—there are some seriously cute bags out there), it’s worth remembering that every little bit of plastic you can remove from your daily routine helps, from your straws to your coffee cups.