Reasons not to burn plastic bags

Written by c. giles | 13/05/2017
Reasons not to burn plastic bags
Both burning and burying plastic bags have a number of risks. (StrahilDimitrov/iStock/Getty Images)

Burning plastic bags has been advocated by some environmental campaigners as a greener alternative to burying them in landfill sites, because they are not biodegradable. Whatever the environmental argument, there are still many sound reasons for not burning plastic bags.

Global warming

One reason not to burn plastic bags is out of concern for the environment. The largest contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases is the burning of fossil fuels, which emit carbon dioxide. This increase in greenhouse gases results in the temperature increase in the Earth's atmosphere and oceans, known as global warming. Global warming is the observed and projected increases in the Earth's average temperature. The carbon footprint of 1 kg (2.2 lb) of plastic bags is approximately 6 kg (13.2 lb) of carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming.

Dioxin poison

When plastic bags are burnt, the high-density polythene from which they are made together with the heat of burning produces an extremely toxic chemical called dioxin. As there is nowhere for the dioxin-filled smoke to go other than into the air, it eventually settles on the surrounding ground, where it is likely to be eaten by animals and become concentrated in their body fat. This ends up in meat and dairy products from these animals, which is then consumed by humans.

Health risks

Anybody who is near a pile of burning plastic bags is at risk of inhaling the poisonous dioxin-filled fumes released into the air. According to The World Health Organisation, as soon as dioxins have entered the body they become a permanent fixture, as they do not dissolve in human fats. This poison has been linked to cancer and is also known to affect the immune system, reproduction and the hormone-producing endocrine gland system.

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