The Problem With Plastic Bags
Plastic shopping bags were introduced in the late 1970’s for department store and grocery store use. Since then, their use has skyrocketed due to their convenience for shoppers. Although these bags are handed out free of charge, they come at a very high price for our planet.
Plastic Bag Pollution
Plastic bags begin as fossil fuels and end up as waste in landfills and our oceans. 12 million barrels of oil are used to manufacture the number of plastic bags that Americans use annually.
Worldwide, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used annually. Of these, the United States uses approximately 100 billion plastic bags annually. On average, plastic bags are used for only 12 minutes.
Plastic bags never biodegrade.
Eventually plastic bags will breakdown, and as they do, toxic additives are released into the environment. It has been shown that the toxic additives that are released include endocrine disrupters that harm humans and non-humans alike.
Plastic Bag Recycling
Recycling plastic bag programs began in 1990. However, by 1996, 4 out of 5 grocery bags in the United States were single use bags. Every day, over 1 billion single use plastic bags are given out for free. Americans use approximately 100 billion plastic bags each year, but only 1% of plastic bags are recycled.
Often, even those that are labeled as recyclable, are not actually accepted by recycling centers.
Plastic Bags In The Ocean
About 80% of ocean plastic pollution is a result of land pollution ending up in our waters. Unfortunately, plastic bags are especially harmful and toxic to marine animals. Plastic bags are one of the most common type of pollution found on beaches. Often, the plastic bags start out as litter on the beach or nearby streets and sidewalks that then gets blown into storm drains or directly into creeks and streams which all lead to the ocean.
Marine animals often confuse plastic waste for food. For example, 1 in 3 leatherback sea turtles have plastic in their stomach. Usually, the plastic found in the sea turtles is in the form of plastic bags. The plastic ends up harming or killing these marine species. In sea turtles, the plastic blocks their digestive tract, food is then trapped which releases gasses causing the turtles to be buoyant and unable to dive for food. Thus, many sea turtles slowly starve to death as a result of our “free” plastic bags.
Midway Atoll is an island found in the North Pacific Ocean and is home to the largest albatross colony on Earth. The albatross forage at sea, sometimes hundreds of miles from land. Thousands of albatross have been found dead due to ingesting plastic bags. Often, the adult albatross confuses the plastic bags as food and attempts to feed it to their young. Subsequently, the young birds then die.
A recent autopsy of a beached whale found 20 square feet of plastic shopping bags inside of a whale’s stomach. The plastic bags took up the whale’s entire stomach and likely was the cause of it's death.
Plastic Bag Recycling Tips
The best thing you can do is to stop using plastic bags.
But, if you have accumulated plastic bags, then the next best thing to do is find a way to recycle them. There are some municipalities that do accept plastic bags as recycling. Check with your local municipality to see if and where a recycling center exists.
Ensure success at the recycling center by following these simple plastic bag tips. It is best to wad up your plastic bags into a tight ball resembling a basketball. Tie them together using the handles of the bags. When people recycle only 1 or 2 plastic bags at a time and just dump them into a recycling bin this often becomes a problem at the recycling center with the recycling machinery.
Plastic Bag Alternatives
There is a global movement to reduce plastic bag waste and switch to reusable bags. Today, many stores have reusable bags for sale. Further, there are many different alternatives and styles, so try a few different types to see which kind you prefer. There are over the shoulder and cross body bags. You can choose between machine washable or heavy duty wipe clean varieties. You can choose your favorite colors and designs. Have fun with it and pick some out that you love! Make sure to take them with you wherever you go and keep them in your car so you are never at the store without your favorite bags.
Learn More About Plastic Bag Pollution
To learn more about plastic bag pollution, plastic bags in the ocean, plastic bag waste, and plastic bag alternatives, consult the resources listed below.
10 Facts About Single Use Plastic Bags: An article from the Center of Biological Diversity explaining the problems with plastic bags and 10 facts everyone should know about plastic bags.
The Dangers of Plastic Bags: An article and video from EcoWatch explaining the problems associated with plastic bags.
The Plastic Bag Problem: An article from Mother Earth News discussing the problems of plastic bags, the problems with plastic bag recycling, and how to go plastic free.
Plastics in the Ocean from Teach the Earth discusses plastics in the ocean, how this affects human health, how the toxins enter the food chain, prevention, and the role humans play.