Solving the Problem of Plastic Bags

Plastic bags have become a ubiquitous convenience item in the modern world, used as shopping bags for groceries and every other type of product. They are strong, lightweight, and inexpensive. But plastic bags are also fast becoming one of the world's most widespread trash problems. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States generates about 380 billion plastic bags a year and recycles less than 5 percent of them. Worldwide, only about 1 percent are recycled. When bags are not recycled or disposed of properly, they blow onto streets, flow into storm drains, or get caught up in trees, creating ugly lit-

ter. The bags also pollute rivers, lakes, and oceans. According to some environmental groups, when the bags are washed out to sea, marine animals such as sea turtles can mistake them for food and die after eating the plastic. They say other sea creatures get tangled in the bags and die. Makers of the plastic bags are trying to make recycling the bags easier for consumers and to use more recycled content in the bags they produce. Meanwhile, environmental groups encourage consumers to substitute reusable shopping bags for plastic bags and to think carefully about whether they even need a bag for smaller items.

Many plastic bags wash up on beaches or are washed out to sea, creating a huge trash problem if they are not disposed of properly

Many plastic bags wash up on beaches or are washed out to sea, creating a huge trash problem if they are not disposed of properly

The Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) program allows countries to claim credits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and by funding reduction programs in less-developed nations. Many CDM projects have been developed in China, like these cooling towers at an electrical power plant in Beijing.

with carbon, is one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases, and it is produced in large quantities by many of the developing world's open-air dumps. Because climate change is a global phenomenon, removing methane anywhere on the globe will help in the effort to reduce global warming. Some CDM projects focus on flaring methane caught at garbage dumps, while others aim to use the methane as fuel to create electricity.

A number of countries in Latin America became the first to seek CDM funding to establish methane-reduction systems, with Brazil the undisputed leader. Over three thousand CDM projects have been proposed in the region, and they are attracting investment capital in the range of $250 to $500 million. In recent years, however, the majority of CDM projects have been developed in India and China, due to their overwhelming problems with pollution. Many observers think this is only the beginning, however. A new Kyoto treaty is expected to be negotiated for the period beginning in 2013, and these types of emissions-reducing programs could rise substantially in future years.

The United States signed the Kyoto Treaty, but U.S. president George W Bush withdrew U.S. support for it and never submitted it for ratification by Congress. But the next U.S. president, Barack Obama, expressed support for the Kyoto process, so most observers expect the United States to reverse course and become very involved with the next Kyoto agreement and future global warming initiatives.

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