Stop a moment and think about the plastic in your life. For most Americans it’s not hard to find it in every room in your home. As I’ve tried to liver a greener life, I’ve tried to slowly replace the plastic in our house for more sustainable options… but it isn’t always easy. For some, the idea of getting rid of all their plastic seems impossible. No matter what your situation, however, there are some simple things we all can do right now to make our world a safer, greener place. Of course I’m talking about plastic bags. Do you realize the dangers of plastic bags… or how simple it is to be part of the solution instead of the problem?
The Dangers of Plastic Bags
Most of us have seen the devastating and heart wrenching images of birds being terminally entangled by plastic bags. Of wildlife being overrun and littered with our garbage. Of the deaths of animals due to plastic bag ingestion.
According to a World Wildlife Fund Report in 2005, nearly 200 different species of sea life including whales, dolphins, seals, and turtles die because of plastic bags.
Think about the magnitude of the problem: The United States Environmental Protection Agency released data that estimates between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. (source)
To make matters worse, most bag are not recycled because it costs more to recycle a bag than to produce a new one. In fact, according to Jared Blumenfeld, Director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, it costs $4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32. Not good economics, for sure. But does that mean we should just keep consuming more bags? Definitely not.
Plastic bags are toxic to the environment.
Bags end up in landfills, oceans, seas, and lakes. They end up strangling animals, filling our sewer systems, and blowing throughout the environment.
In fact, according to the National Marine Debris Monitoring Program, plastic bags account for over 10 percent of the debris washed up on the U.S. coastline (source).
Unlike items that naturally biodegrade, plastic bags are made from polyethylene: a thermoplastic made from oil. Plastic bags photodegrade… meaning that over time the plastic breaks down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers (source). These contaminants poison our soil and water and then enter our food chain. (Like we need more toxic chemicals in our food!)
Be part of the solution: It’s really easy.
In a world where it seems the problem is too big, it’s easy to wonder if one person can make a difference. But yes, YOU can.
If we trade out our plastic bags for reusable cloth bags the average person can save 6 bags a week.
That translates into 22,176 bags in the average life time.
If just 1 out of 5 people in our country did this we would save 1,330,560,000,000 bags over our life time. (source)
Other benefits of reusable bags
- Because plastic bags are made from oil, reducing them would decrease foreign oil dependency.
- We’d start preserving the thousands of marine animals and more than 1 million of birds who die from plastic bags each year.
- Paper bags also pose a problem. Americans consume more than 10 billion paper bags per year which translates into approximately 14 million cut down trees… think of how reusable bags can save our trees.
- We’ll also conserve water as paper production requires hundreds of thousands of gallons of water (not to mention the toxic chemicals involved in processing).
Step one: Get reusable bags
The first step to helping this plastic bag crisis is to get your hands on some reusable bags. With so many options available, you don’t have to spend a lot of money. Here are just some of the great finds that can help reduce waste, save animals, help our planet, and send a message that you want to help the problem, not perpetuate it.
It’s a small investment to give ourselves (and our children) a better future.
Step two: Have a plan
The second step is to have a plan to remember to use your reusable bags. I bought my first set of reusable bags several years ago and I probably remembered to use them one out of every ten trips. Bad job, Robin. Bad.
Here are some tips to help you remember your reusable bags:
- Keep them in your car.
- As soon as you bring up your bags from the store put them next to your car keys (to take with you next time you go to your car) and put them back immediately.
- Put them someplace where you’ll see them so they don’t get lost in your trunk.
- Put your reusable bags on your shopping list. As you check your list for the week you’ll see your reminder to take your bags with you.
- Set a reminder on your phone.
- Stick a little reminder on the door.
- Stick a little reminder on your steering wheel.
Do whatever it takes to get in the habit of using the bags. The dangers of plastic bags are real. The solution, however, it quite simple. It just takes us to make the commitment and change.
What do you think? Do you use reusable bags? What helps you remember to use them?