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What’s So Bad About Plastic Bags?

There’s no denying it. Single-use disposable plastic bags are suffocating the planet, with 60,000 plastic bags being consumed in the U.S. every 5 seconds. 

 

They take huge amounts of energy to manufacture, transport across the country, and recycle. They don’t break down in landfill sites (due to lack of oxygen and light- nothing does), but over time they release dangerous chemicals.

 

They’re incredibly difficult to recycle, causing problems such as blocking the sorting equipment used by most recycling facilities. They contribute to a widespread, global litter problem.

And that’s not all.

The Human Factor

Plastic bags are very difficult to recycle. The common three-arrow recyclable symbol is found on plastic packaging across the U.S. however in many cases it is a marketing trick, as there is no regulation of the symbol or legal requirements for the way it is used, and every municipality in America has different guidelines on what it can and cannot recycle.

 

Many of the plastic bags collected by recycling companies cannot be reused or recycled, as the industry that produces them does not want to buy them back.

 

Most ‘recycled’ bags, therefore, end up in landfill sites or are shipped to Asia, where workers in sweatshop conditions cherry-pick our trash looking for plastics that can be melted down and reused there.

 

Not only are these enterprises quagmires for human rights issues and labor issues, the toxic open-melting methods they use are also a major cause of concern for human health.

The Animal Impact

Most of the Earth’s wildlife lives in the sea, which means that at least 260 species of animals are also at risk of ingestion or entanglement due to plastic bag flotsam.

 

Floating plastic bags are often mistaken for jellyfish by marine animals who feed on them, such as sea turtles which are threatened with becoming endangered due to mass ingestion of plastics.

 

Shards of plastic bags fester in their stomachs, leaving no room for actual food, and because the plastic cannot be digested, it remains in the sea long after the turtle has perished and decayed because of it.

 

An autopsy of a beached whale’s stomach revealed 20 square feet of mostly single-use plastic shopping bags which took up its entire stomach. Similar cases have occurred with animals across the planet over the last 3 decades, since plastic bags were introduced on a mass scale.

Other problems animals face due to plastic bag waste are suffocation from eating plastic shards, and strangulation from becoming caught in plastic bags. Dolphins, seals, sharks, flamingos, seagulls, pelicans, and other animals and birds have been found dead in large numbers due to plastic bags.

In addition to this, as the plastic degrades into smaller pieces it is also eaten by aquatic organisms, small fish, and jellyfish. Plastic waste, therefore, enters the food chain in increasing concentrations as larger fish feed on smaller ones and other animals feed on the fish – including human beings.

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Who's to Blame?

The plastics industry has launched major and influential campaigns against endeavors to reduce or ban plastic bag use across the U.S. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) is a representative body for a large group of companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Dow Chemical, and Shell.

 

The ACC works hard to protect the plastic industry’s market share and profits, spending $8 million on lobbying alone last year. They argue strongly in favor of single-use plastic bags, with various advertising campaigns across the U.S. They have attempted to sue individuals campaigning for plastic bag bans.

The ACC spent $1.4 million funding a campaign in Seattle to ‘educate’ people about the supposed ethics of plastic bags, claiming, amongst other things, that they create jobs and are widely and easily recycled. Lawmakers in California also rejected a people-led statewide ban across the state due to heavy lobbying initiatives and advertising campaigns in favor of plastic bags.

So Who's Doing What?

The first nationwide ban on plastic bags was enacted over a decade ago in Bangladesh, after plastic bags blocked storm drains, causing massive floods. China banned plastic bags in 2008 and in the first year of doing so they eliminated the use of over 40 billion single-use plastic bags.

In recent years, over 200 communities across the States have introduced anti-bag measures. Due to a lack of governmental regulation of plastic bags, U.S. citizens are taking it upon themselves to eliminate the quagmire fodder.

 

In 2010 Washington, D.C. imposed a plastic bag fee that instantly reduced plastic bag use from 22.5 million to 3 million per month. Meanwhile, 30 rural communities in Alaska have banned plastic bags. Aspen, Colorado has banned grocers from handing out plastic bags and added a 20 cent fee to paper bags too.

What Can We Do About It?

There’s no denying it. Single-use disposable plastic bags are suffocating the planet, with 60,000 plastic bags being consumed in the U.S. every 5 seconds. 

 

They take huge amounts of energy to manufacture, transport across the country, and recycle. They don’t break down in landfill sites (due to lack of oxygen and light- nothing does), but over time they release dangerous chemicals.

 

They’re incredibly difficult to recycle, causing problems such as blocking the sorting equipment used by most recycling facilities, they contribute to a widespread, global litter problem, and that’s not all!

Re-educate Others

People need to know the truth about plastic bags. Buy  reusable bags for friends and family members for their birthdays and Christmases. Encourage local independent businesses to trash the plastic.

 

Talk to your neighborhood about plastic bag litter and talk to your state governor about introducing a ban on plastic bags in the city or the state.

 

Any small difference you make to halting plastic bag use will make a huge difference to the lives of countless species of animals across the world.

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The Solution
Reusable Bags!