Away from Plastic BagsWhen informed that plastic bags have become a pox on our environment, human beings typically sympathize with Mother Nature’s ongoing plight — often going to greater lengths to carry along their reusable totes when they can remember them — but darned if those thin polyethylene wonders aren’t one of the hardest habits to kick. No one can argue that they’re handy, plus their thin profile, wonderful durability and multipurpose application elevate them to guilty pleasure status, often compelling us to stockpile “just a few” for emergencies (not that we can put a finger on what those occasions might actually be). Somewhere along the way, however, our seemingly harmless addiction started affecting animals (particularly those of the marine variety), with sad photos of turtles ingesting tattered bags like Scooby snacks a far too common sight on countless websites. That was bad enough, but then the media began documenting plastic bag-enveloped birds that were either partially or fully shrouded by the one-time-use shopping staples, some presumably even slowly suffocating based on the tuft of semi-shredded plastic lodged between their beaks. We expressed our shock and certainly our compassion by working harder to reuse our treasured plastic bags more than just once. Heck, we even figured out how to turn old bags into “plastic yarn” that could be woven into many eco-goodies. Surely that counted for something, right?

As dandy as eco-crafting may be, plastic bags continue rearing their ugly heads in all corners of the globe, with one of the worst and heart-tugging casualties being India’s cow population. In various regions throughout the country, officials estimate that 90% of their deaths are the result of them grazing on discarded plastic bags among other urban detritus, with roughly 50% of them carrying as much as 45 pounds of plastic in their four stomachs (although 60+ bags per cow is more common). This causes great distress to their bodies, resulting in a slow but steady loss in weight, weakness and imminent death — a fact that several regions have attempted to address by employing rescue crews that perform emergency surgery on cows that are clearly ailing. But we’re talking about cows, not people. Sure, it’s sad, but well, not exactly something to lose sleep over. Not so fast. Unlike in the western world, where that particular breed is favored for its ability to be transformed into succulent burgers, the 900 million followers of Hinduism embrace the notion of cow reverence by rejecting them as a food source, instead elevating them to exulted status as is reflected in their religious scriptures. It’s a criminal offense to harm or kill a cow, but if you’re fortunate enough to encounter one on the street (which is relatively easy, since they’re allowed to roam free) good luck is forthcoming. So, in effect, it’s quite understandable why this unfortunate situation is such a big deal. Without intending to, Hindu residents have been inadvertently killing a sacred animal with their post-consumer waste. What’s truly remarkable is that for the last several years, various regions throughout India have made it their personal business to create a far brighter future for their resident cows (not to mention their formerly blocked sewer systems and overall environment), with incredibly successful results, too. How can plastic bag waste be thwarted in as efficient a manner as possible? That’s easy: by banning them in favor of sustainable alternatives made out of natural fibers and in some cases, paper. Where there were once roughly 150 plastic bag factories dispersed throughout the nation, today there are now approximately 30 to 40 — an obvious sign of eco-success. Here are some stellar examples that demonstrate that where there’s a will, there’s certainly a way when it comes to banning plastic bags:
  • New Delhi: Not only is the creation and distribution of plastic bags strictly prohibited, but their storage and use is also completely off limits, with violators running the risk of sustaining a five-year imprisonment sentence and/or fine of up to 100,000 rupees (the equivalent of $2,275.31 U.S.).
  • Punjab: The Punjab Plastic Bags (Manufacture, Usage and Disposal) Control Act, officially in effect since May 1, 2011, makes carrying or disposing of a virgin plastic polyethylene bag expressly prohibited.
  • Mumbai: In addition to plastic shopping bags thinner than 50 microns being banned, the fifth largest city in the world is currently in the process of adding other common plastic-based food and beverage containers to its list of off-limits materials.
  • Mankuva: All 17,500 residents of Mankuva village teamed up to not only raise the financial resources necessary to handcraft their own eco-bags, but also to distribute them among the entire population in exchange for a commitment that they’d shun plastic bags entirely. Now, neighboring towns such as Kera, Ravapar and Dayapar are following suit!
  • West Bengal: In order to spread awareness regarding the eco-friendly benefits of using greener shopping bag alternatives (while enforcing the current plastic bag ban), this region’s environmental minister recently visited markets and local residents to roll out West Bengal Pollution Control Board’s latest educational campaign.
  • Goa: Taking its plastic bag ban even further than other regions in India, Goa has not only restricted the use of bags that are thinner than 40 microns, but it has also assembled plastic bag squads that are responsible for spot-checking stores and imposing fines for those who violate the rules.
  • Bonus entry — Bangladesh: India’s eastern neighbor earned its trailblazing status by putting the kibosh on plastic bags (back in 2002, to be precise!) before the rest of the world caught on, and its ban has spawned an ever-thriving, biodegradable and positively wallet-friendly jute bag industry.