Why You Should be Ecstatic to Recycle Bags of Plastic

plastic bag waste landfill recycling environment c.jpgNorth America and Europe alone uses 3 to 4 trillion plastic bags every year and while the convenience of plastic bags are of a high value, the rarity of people recycling plastic bags causes severe harm. Every year, Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags [1] which end up in landfills and oceans. The biggest effect has been on marine life, where tens of thousands of animals die every year due to synthetic human materials in their environment.

Plastic bags were introduced into supermarkets in 1977, making them a shopping staple for less than 40 years. In less than 40 years, scientists have estimated that there are an accumulated 46 000 pieces of plastic per square mile of ocean, causing extreme risk to wildlife and the ecosystem [2]. A single plastic bag takes around 1000 years to biodegrade. An animal can consume a plastic bag, die, decompose, and the plastic bag will still be consumed by another animal. Even worse, plastic debris acts like a sponge for toxic chemicals, which poisons marine animals with compounds such as PCBs and DDE.

How does the plastic bag crisis happen?

A lack of attention to the dangers of plastic bags combined with the lack of infrastructure to properly recycle plastic bags have led to the desensitization of the damage of plastic bags.

How many times have you seen a plastic bag tossed around in a breeze and considered it normal? More often than not, our issue with plastic bags are that of annoyance. They are considered a blight on nature – an ugly blot on a well-kept street, or an imperfection in a scenic view instead of the true danger that they pose.

Many countries have participated in establishing bans, taxes and other policies to fight the incredible damage that can occur from plastic bags. Most recently, Proposition 67, a plastic bag ban in California flew under the radar, making California to be the first state to ban plastic bags. The legilstaion looks to force stores to offer recycled paper or compostable bags in lieu of plastic bags. Increasing the costs associated with using plastic bags is only one of the ways to deter their use. A few cents at the till, while significant as a change from the norm, is probably not going to change the minds of many consumers.

Canvas tote bags are the way to replace much of the functionality of a plastic bag, as well as being biodegradable, reusable, and sturdier. While plastic bags are still the chosen method for some activities, like picking up after your dog, there are areas where we can cut down on our plastic bag dependency. Small changes on a grand scale can have a large impact. Avoid plastic bags for groceries that don’t need them such as bagging vegetables, or prepackaged products. Have you tried carrying a 4 liter jug of milk with a plastic bag that threatens to break with every step? Forget double bagging your milk, and simply buy a canvas tote bag that you can use over and over.

[1] New Bans on Plastic Bags May Help Protect Marine Life. Worldwatch Institute. Retrieved from http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5565

[2] Factsheet: Plastic Bags. SPREP. Retrieved from https://www.sprep.org/attachments/Publications/FactSheet/plasticbags.pdf