Monday, October 08, 2007

Our Lives Changed Today

Reading our local newspaper changed our families lives today. No joke! It really did. You finish reading and let me know if your life will be changed today.

By the time you've read this sentence, Americans will have thrown away over 15,000 plastic bags. They will have recycled about 150.

The simple plastic grocery bag is an amazing invention. Plastic bags are strong, inexpensive, and durable. They can be used to hold groceries, lunches, clothes (dirty or clean), prescriptions, trash and more.

But there's a problem with plastic grocery bags. Once they're made, they basically never go away. In a landfill, a bag may take over 1,000 years to break down. In other words, the bag you carried home from the store yesterday might still be there for your great great great grandchildren's great great great grandchildren to enjoy. What an heirloom!

Of course, many grocery bags don't go to a landfill. They end up polluting rivers, oceans, beaches, forests, parks, streets, parking lots, schoolyards, backyards, and athletic fields.

This pollution is deadly. Californians Against Waste claim that 100,000 turtles and marine mammals are killed each year by plastic marine debris. That's approximately one every five minutes. A cow in New Delhi died after ingesting 35,000 plastic bags, according to Indian media reports.

While yesterday's plastic bags sully the landscape and kill wildlife, more and more plastic bags are being manufactured today. According to, Americans use over 100 billion plastic bags each year. That's 274 million plastic bags a day, or over 3100 per second. estimates that about 12 million barrels of oil are used annually to manufacture the plastic bags used in the United States. That's enough oil to create about 240 million gallons of gas, which could fuel over 500,000 cars with gas for an entire year.

We're swimming in a sea of plastic bags. If we don't act fast, we may drown. Fortunately, there are several easy steps you can take to help reduce the plastic bag waste you produce.

First, stop using plastic bags in the grocery store. Don't replace them with paper bags, which require more petroleum to manufacture than do plastic bags. Instead, replace them with reusable shopping bags.

Reusable bags, often made of cloth or recycled plastic, are inexpensive, large, and sturdy. If each American household brought one cloth bag per trip to the grocery store, we would throw away 10 billion fewer plastic bags per year.

Reuseable bags come in all different kinds. You can get designer bags, such as the ones offered by Hermes for $960. Publix offers a less chic model for under $2. Better yet, look around your house and you may find a variety of cloth bags, backpacks or other suitable totes lying around. Stick them in your car so you don't forget them.

If you do forget your reusable bags, then make sure you bag your groceries carefully. Grocery baggers seem to operate on a per-bag commission, double bagging anything heavier than a loaf of bread. Ask the bagger to fill your bags up, and only double bag when absolutely necessary.
When you get home, don't throw the bags away. Bring them back to the store and drop them in the recycling bin. Experts estimate that only 1.2 percent of plastic bags used in the U.S. are recycled.

These simple steps alone could cut America's plastic bag waste by tens of billions of bags per year, saving millions of barrels of oil, thousands of turtles and marine mammals and preventing countless instances of unsightly litter and dangerous pollution.

Unfortunately, not enough Americans are taking these easy steps. If we don't clean up our act, then government may have to step in. In some places, it already has.

Several countries, including Taiwan, Thailand and South Africa, have banned plastic grocery bags. San Francisco recently followed suit, and other American cities are considering similar legislation. Such legislation is expensive, time-consuming and should be unnecessary.

Citizens need to stand up and act on their own to eliminate needless plastic bag waste.

In the time you took to read this column, Americans threw away over 900,000 plastic bags.

Whether by legislation, innovation or individual action, we must eliminate our dependence on plastic bags.

Do your part today.

I give full credit to Stuart Carlton. "Stuart Carlton is a Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Ecology program at the University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and he Environment."

1 comment:

karisma said...

You will be happy to hear that we stopped using the plastic bags years ago. I have hundreds of ecobags and I take them shopping with me all the time. We re-use them over and over. They are much better than plastic as they are easier to carry, dont break and we even have insulated ones for the cold foods.

Any plastic bags we do end up with are reused for storage or passed on to others who can use them. One friend of mine crochets the bags together and makes kitchen mats for people.

It takes a little getting used to carrying your own bags but once you get used to it, its no bother at all. Makes you wonder why we haven't always done it that way. Some stores over here do not supply any plastic bags at all, you have to bring your own or buy a re-usable one. Those reluctant types usually give in when they have to pay each time they go.