So what’s the deal with plastic bags anyway? It’s quite simple, really.
It is estimated that approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used per shopper, per year. Americans alone throw away 100 billion.
Just think about that number for a minute. 5 billion bags per shopper, per year. You heard me right, that’s a five with nine zeroes after it. Insane right? Almost impossible to think about. Here’s another crazy thing:
They do not biodegrade. It takes 1,000 years for them to disintegrate.
Plastic never breaks down entirely. So imagine all the 5 billion plastic bags for each person who shopped this year. Now imagine that number multiplied by ten years. Now imagine that number multiplied by 30-40 years (plastic bags began to pop up in most stores in the late 1970s.)
Almost 2 trillion
And yeah most of those, if not all, are still hanging around today. Or swimming in our oceans. They’re there, you’ve seen them. You may have stopped noticing them because you see them so often, but they are always there – swept down the road by the wind, caught in the trees flapping in the breeze. In fact, 8 million tons of general plastic litter enters our oceans per year. Isn’t that fun to think about?
- While floating in the oceans, they choke and strangle the marine life
- They flow into spots in the oceans called gyres (basically massive collecting points of mingled plastic debris, the earth has 5)
- Land animals also often mistake the lovely plastic bag for food, blocking their digestive tracks and eventually killing them
- They clog up our land fills and remain there for hundreds of years
- They end up everywhere and anywhere throughout nature and they do not biodegrade
The easiest and most effective solution, of course, would be to just refuse plastic bags straight away. Invest in good-quality reusable (cloth) bags and bring them every time you go to the grocery store. My favourite is the one pictured above, which we picked up at a Spar in Vienna. You don’t have to spend money on new ones if you don’t want to. You can reuse the odd old bag lying around the house or make your own if you are so inclined. Ours are always either in the trunk of our car or on the door knob so we don’t forget them. I keep a small one in my bag at all times, just in case the need arises. It can fold down to a small enough size to fit in my pocket and it has served me very well.
If you are buying only one or two items, you can just say “I don’t need a bag” at checkout. If you have to choose between a plastic bag and a paper one at checkout, request paper. It’s not as great as bringing your own, but at least you’re not using plastic. Plus, paper bags will biodegrade in a couple of months.
Unfortunately, most municipal waste management will not take your plastic bags, even if you put them curbside. Depending on where you live, you may be fortunate enough to have a store or depot that will take your plastic bags for recycling. However, the recycling of plastic bags is not efficient in any way and eventually will not address the growing list of problems mentioned above.
Always remember that each choice we make causes a chain reaction, and we choose the world of the future.