Plastic bags cause many minor and major issues in geographical terms. The most general issue with plastic bags is the amount of waste produced. Many plastic bags end up on streets and are considered by many to be aesthetically displeasing.
Even when disposed of properly, they take many years to decompose and break down, generating large amounts of garbage over long periods of time. If not disposed of properly the bags can pollute waterways, clog sewers and have been found in oceans affecting the habitat of animals and marine creatures.
Two primary kinds of direct damage to wildlife are entanglement and ingestion. Wildlife animals or birds can become entangled. When the animals or birds are entangled they drown or cannot fly due to entanglement.Plastic bags are often ingested by animals because they cannot distinguish whether is it food or not. As a result it clogs their intestines which results in death by starvation.Plastic bags can block drains, trap birds and kill livestock. The World Wide Fund for Nature has estimated that over 100,000 whales, seals, and turtles die every year as a result of eating or being trapped by plastic bags. In India, an estimated number of 20 cows die per day as a result of ingesting plastic bags and having their digestive systems clogged by the bags. It is also very common across Africa to have sewers and drain systems clogged by bags which cause severe cases of malaria due to the increased population of mosquitoes that live on the flooded sewers.The term "white pollution" has been coined in China to describe the local and global effects of discarded plastic bags upon the environment.
Lightweight plastic bags are also blown into trees and other plants and can be mistaken for flowers by animals affecting their diet. Plastic bags break down, but they never biodegrade. As a result, any toxic additives they contain—including flame retardants, antimicrobials, and plasticizers—will be released into the environment. Many of those toxins directly affect the endocrine systems of organisms, which control almost every cell in the body. Research shows the average operating 'lifespan' of a plastic bag to be approximately 20 minutes. Plastic bags can last in landfill – an anaerobic environment – for up to 1000 years.
The plastic bags that gets dumped in the Pacific Ocean would all eventually end up in the Great Pacific garbage patch. 80% of the plastic waste comes from land while the rest of the 20% comes from oil platforms and ships. The waste in the Pacific Ocean are bigger than dumps in land which makes it an issue for marine animals. This large amount of plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean could be eaten up by marine animals, and this will end up blocking up their breathing passages and stomach. Plastic bags not only stay in the Great Pacific garbage patch, it could be washed back up to shore in beaches around the world.
In many countries of the world, there has been a phase-out of lightweight plastic bags. Single-use plastic shopping bags, commonly made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plastic, have traditionally been given free to customers by stores when purchasing goods—a popular method considered a strong, cheap, and hygienic way of transporting items. Problems associated with plastic bags include use of non-renewable resources (such as crude oil, gas and coal),disposal, and environmental impacts.
Governments all over the world have taken action to ban the sale of lightweight bags, charge customers for lightweight bags and/or generate taxes from the stores who sell them.The Bangladesh government was the first to do so in 2002, imposing a total ban on the bag.Such a ban has also been applied in countries such as Rwanda, China, Taiwan and Macedonia.Some countries in Western Europe impose a fee per bag. Bans, partial bans, and fees have been enacted by some local jurisdictions in North America, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Myanmar.Concurrently with the reduction in lightweight plastic bags, shops have introduced reusable shopping bags.