102 billion. That’s how many plastic bags Americans use every year, according to the Clean Air Council. Another example of unnecessary waste, these bags pile up in landfills and litter the landscape. In response, local governments across the country have banned single-use plastic bags. Here are five reasons your city should do the same:
5 Justifications for Banning Plastic Grocery Bags
1. They harm animals in two different ways. To marine animals, a plastic bag floating in the ocean looks like a jellyfish, a primary food source for some turtles. If ingested, the bags can clog animals’ digestive system and cause starvation.
Plastic bags also indirectly hurt animals — and maybe even humans. These bags don’t biodegrade; light breaks them down into tiny particles that contain 100,000 to 1 million times the level of PCBs (a toxin once used in coolant fluids) found in seawater, according to NOAA. The process takes hundreds of years, but in the meantime, these microplastics contaminate the soil and water, where toxins make their way into the food chain.
2. They’re difficult to recycle. It costs $4,000 to recycle one ton of plastic bags. Yet the recycled product yields just $32, according to the Clean Air Council. Because plastic bags jam sorting machines, they must be recycled separately from other types of plastic, such as soda bottles. It’s no wonder the Sierra Club says that only 1% to 3% of plastic bags are recycled. The rest ends up in a landfill or scattered around as litter.
3. They consume non-renewable natural resources. Some plastic bags are made with byproducts of petroleum – most manufactured in America are made with natural gas. There is a heated debate over whether the country’s plastic bag addiction adds to our dependence on oil. Either way, manufacturing plastic bags consumes non-renewable natural resources that reusable cloth bags don’t.
4. Reusable bags are better. Have you ever walked out of the grocery store only to realize that one of your plastic bags was torn? If so, you know how difficult it is to gather up a half dozen nonfat Greek yogurts that are rolling around a parking lot. A sturdy, reusable recycled plastic or canvas shopping bag won’t tear like a single-use, thin plastic bag. Bring a reusable bag, and your yogurts will thank you.
Another benefit: Reusable bags are generally larger than plastic bags, so you can fit more stuff inside fewer bags, which translates to fewer trips between the car and the house as you unload groceries. If you walk to a neighborhood grocery store, you may not have to go as often, since you can bring home more groceries each time – and when carrying those heavier loads you’ll be happy that reusable bags have thick handles. This will save your fingers from those painful indentations that cinched-up handles of overloaded plastic bags leave behind.
5. Bans are effective. Cities that banned plastic bags have measurably reduced waste and litter. After all, why ban the bags if it won’t make a difference? San Jose, California, has one of the most effective bans, which became effective January 1, 2012. In November of the same year, the city conducted a litter survey to compare the trash content found in the city before and after the ban went into effect. The city found an 89% reduction of plastic bags in the city’s storm drain system. Plastic bag litter in the city’s creeks and rivers fell by 60%, and there was 59% less plastic bag waste in city streets. In addition, the percentage of shoppers who brought their own reusable bags increased from 3.6% to 62.4%.
These are some pretty convincing reasons that your city should ban single-use plastic bags. Until then, you can start the trend by carrying home your sustainable food in a sustainable bag.
What’s your stance on the wave of plastic bag bans sweeping the country? Are you for or against them? Let us know in the comments, or take the conversation to Twitter (we’ll tweet you back if you @BerryBreeze).