- Every minute, about 2 million plastic bags are used around the world (Earth Policy Institute).
- Globally, over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year—but this number may not, in fact, accurately capture the full magnitude of the pandemic (Earth Policy Institute). Consider China, a country of 1.3 billion, which consumes 3 billion plastic bags daily, according to China Trade News.
- Approximately 32 million tons of plastic waste are generated every year, which represents 12.7% of total municipal solid waste (Environmental Protection Agency).
- In the UK, only 1 in 200 plastic bags are recycled (BBC).
- The average American family takes home 1,500 plastic bags a year (Natural Resources Defense Council).
- Americans use and throw away 100 billion plastic bags every year, which requires 12 million barrels of oil per year to manufacture. (The Wall Street Journal).
WHY ARE PLASTIC BAGS BAD?
- Scientists estimate that every square mile of ocean contains approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic (United Nations Environment Programme).
- In the best circumstances, high-density polyethylene—the plastic used to make disposable bags—will take over 20 years to degrade. In less ideal circumstances (like in landfills or as general refuse), a bag will take more than 500 years to degrade (ScienceLearn.org).
- Sadly, only from .5% to 3% of all bags are recycled (BBC, CNN).
- An estimated 3,960,000 tons of plastic bags, sack and wraps are produced annually. Of those, 90% (3,570,000 tons) is discarded. Since the first year that plastic bag numbers were tracked, the amount of waste from discarded plastic bags has tripled (from 1,230,000 tons in 1980). (Environmental Protection Agency).
PLASTIC BAGS' IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
- When plastics break down, they don't biodegrade; they photodegrade. This means the materials break down to smaller, even more toxic fragments of petro-polymers, which then contaminate soil, waterways, and animals upon digestion (Earth911).
- Plastic bags are consistently in the top 10 pieces of trash collected on beaches around the world according to data from the Ocean Conservancy's annual International Coastal Cleanups.
- Because plastic bags can take up to 500 years to decompose, this leaves them to drift on the ocean for years and years. According to the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, these plastic bags poison and kill many marine animals (fish, sea turtles, etc.) when the animals mistake them for food.
- 10% of the nearly 4 million tons of plastic produced every year winds up in the ocean—70% of which finds its way to the ocean floor, where it will likely never degrade (United Nations).
- The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually at an estimated cost to retailers of $4 billion (The Wall Street Journal).
- The solution is not a plastic bag ban, which simply shifts production from single-use plastic to paper and compostable bags, both of which have significant environmental consequences.
- A study on the life cycle of three types of disposable bags (single-use plastic, paper and compostable plastic) showed that both compostable plastic and paper bags require more material per bag in the manufacturing process. This means "higher consumption of raw materials in the manufacture of the bags...[and] greater energy in bag manufacturing and greater fuel use in the transport of the finished product. ...The added requirements of manufacturing energy and transport for the compostable and paper bag systems far exceed the raw material use in the standard plastic bag system." (from a peer reviewed Boustead Consulting & Associates report)
- At reuseit, we advocate a multi-pronged approach to solving the plastic bag pandemic by discouraging the distribution of plastic bags and encouraging a cultural shift away from disposable, use-and-toss plastic bags. —Plastic Tax: In 2001, Ireland implemented a plastic tax (or PlasTax); the first of its kind, this route acknowledges the fact that people will still occasionally use plastic bags. This market-based solution discourages habitual, thoughtless use of plastic bags by charging a nominal fee per bag at checkout. After this tax, a study by the Irish Department of the Environment found that plastic bag usage had dropped 93.5%, which breaks down to a decrease from 328 to 21 bags used per person each year. —A cultural shift away from use-and-toss culture: Each reusable bag can eliminate hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic bags.