A rising number of governments and retailers are banning plastic bags, or discouraging their use, due to concerns about their environmental impact.
Whole Foods had previously tried to get customers to buy reusable bags, but the concept did not catch on until they began offering them for 99 cents.
Whole Foods officials estimate that the store currently distributes 150 million plastic bags a year.
Plastic bags are typically thrown away after one use, do not break down easily in the environment, fill landfills, and float into trees, rooftops, roadways and oceans.
Plastic pollution causes more than 1 million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, and even more fish to die in the North Pacific alone, every year.
The problem is so bad that a plastic “stew,” twice the size of Texas has formed on the Pacific Ocean. Scientists have dubbed the mass of floating plastic trash the “Eastern Garbage Patch,” and its volume is growing at an alarming pace. Even more shocking: when researchers tested the water of the Pacific Ocean, they found it contained six times as much plastic as plankton, by weight!
It’s not just marine animals that are poisoned by all these stray plastic bags. You too (and your breast fed baby) are ingesting plastics every day through the food chain. It’s a hazardous mix of chemicals and additives, such as:
- Cancer-causing PFOAs
- PBDEs, which cause reproductive problems
- Phthalates; another group of reproductive toxins
- BPA, which disrupts the endocrine system by mimicking the female hormone estrogen
The end result of breathing, eating, drinking and absorbing all of this plastic includes obesity, declining fertility rates and other reproductive problems, and cancer, just to name a few.
Sobering Statistics on Our Use of Plastic
The statistics on our use of plastic bags world-wide are truly staggering. For example, did you know that:
- Between 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide annually. That’s more than one million bags PER MINUTE!!
- U.S. consumers use more than 380 billion plastic bags annually
- Taiwan consumes about 20 billion bags a year, or 900 per person annually
- Australians consume 6.9 billion plastic bags each year, or 326 per person
- Ireland consumes about 1.2 billion plastic bags, or 316 per person
Of these billions of plastic bags:
- Only 1 to 7 percent are recycled
- It takes 1,000 years for polyethylene bags to break down
- During that 1,000 years of photodegradation, toxic substances leach into the soil and enter the food chain
According to the BBC, windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that cottage industry groups are now harvesting about 30,000 bags each per month, which they use to weave bags and hats.
And, plastic bag litter can now be found as far north as Spitsbergen (78° North latitude), and as far south as the Falklands (51° South latitude).
Why Switching to Paper is FAR From the Best Solution
While switching to paper might appear to be better than sticking with plastic, paper also, unfortunately, comes at a very high price to your environment, and your health. In fact, they’re roughly equal in their number of pros and cons. For example:
- Producing a paper bag requires more than four times as much energy than it does to produce a plastic bag.
A plastic bag uses 594 BTUs, compared to a paper bag, which uses 2511 BTUs during the manufacturing process.
(Source: 1989 Plastic Recycling Directory, Society of Plastics Industry.)
- The majority of paper comes from tree pulp, so naturally the impact in the form of deforestation is enormous. In 1999, 14 million trees were cut to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans that year alone.
In fact, paper bag production delivers a detrimental double-whammy as forests (major absorbers of greenhouse gases) are cut down, combined with the actual manufacturing process of the bags, which produces toxic greenhouse gases, acid rain, and water pollution.
- Although paper bags have a higher recycling rate than plastic, only 10 to 15 percent of paper bags are recycled. And, making matters even less attractive, it takes 91 percent LESS energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper.
- Last but not least, current research indicates that paper does not degrade at a substantially faster rate than plastic once it’s in a landfill. This is because virtually nothing degrades completely in modern landfills due to lack of water, light, oxygen and other factors necessary for successful degradation.
What’s the Answer?
At the end of the day, your best option to ensure a cleaner environment and better health for both man and beast is to use reusable, cloth shopping bags.
I read an article a few weeks ago about how one country, I believe Ireland, put a 35 cent fee on ALL plastic bags. They did not ban or make them illegal, anyone could still purchase them, BUT this simple act done six years ago virtually eliminated the use of plastic bags in their country.
A few of my readers have commented on the dilemma of what to do about their pet waste as they’re trying to reduce their dependence on plastic bags.
For this situation, a good alternative is to buy biodegradable doggie bags, which you can find online on sites like www.poopbags.com and www.ecoanimal.com. They sell bags made from 100 percent biodegradable corn and other renewable sources.Plastic bags may seem like an insignificant issue but they certainly add up over time and this is clearly one area where you can have a dramatic impact if you encourage your friends, family and neighbors to follow your lead.