Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. Consider China, a country of 1.3 billion, which consumes 3 billion plastic bags daily, according to China Trade News.
About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
More than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2008.
Only 1 in 200 plastic bags in the UK are recycled (BBC).
The U.S. goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags. This costs retailers about $4 billion a year.
Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008)
Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.
An estimated 6 billion plastic bags are consumed--just in that county--each year. (William T. Fujioka, 2008)
It is estimated that worldwide plastic bag consumption falls between 500 billion and 1 trillion bags annually. That breaks down to almost 1 million every minute.
The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store.
In good circumstances, high-density polyethylene will take more than 20 years to degrade. In less ideal circumstances (land fills or as general refuse), a bag will take more than 1,000 years to degrade.
An estimated 3,960,000 tons of plastic bags, sack and wraps were produced in 2008. Of those, 3,570,000 tons (90%) were discarded. This is almost triple the amount discarded the first year plastic bag numbers were tracked (1,230,000 tons in 1980). (EPA)
Anywhere from .5% to 3% of all bags winds up recycled. (BBC, CNN)
Every square mile of the ocean has about 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it. (UN, 2006)
Ten percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean. 70% of which finds its way to the ocean floor, where it will likely never degrade. (UN, 2006)
The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually at an estimated cost to retailers of $4 billion. (The Wall Street Journal)
The extremely slow decomposition rate of plastic bags leaves them to drift on the ocean for untold years. According to Algalita Marine Research Foundation, these plastic bags cause the death of many marine animals (fish, sea turtles, etc.), every year when animals mistake them for food.
Numbers were kept on 43 different types of refuse. Cigarette butts were the most common. Plastic bags came in second. (Ocean Conservency, 2008)
When plastics break down, they don't biodegrade; they photodegrade. This means the materials break down to smaller fragments which readily soak up toxins. They then contaminate soil, waterways, and animals upon digestion.
Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up to harvest them. These are then woven and sold as hats and (more durable) bags.
The solution is not a plastic bag ban, which is an emotional response which fails to strike at the heart of the issue; instead of a market-based solution, a ban shifts production to paper bags and compostable bags, both of which have heavy environmental consequences.
The solution is not switching to paper bags or compostable plastic bags. A study on the life cycle of three types of disposable bags (single-use plastic, paper, and compostable plastic) showed that both compostable plastic and paper bags require more material per bag in the manufacturing process. This means "higher consumption of raw materials in the manufacture of the bags...[and] greater energy in bag manufacturing and greater fuel use in the transport of the finished product. ...The added requirements of manufacturing energy and transport for the compostable and paper bag systems far exceed the raw material use in the standard plastic bag system." (from a peer reviewed Boustead Consulting & Associates report)
reuseit.com™ supports a multi-pronged approach that discourages the distribution of plastic bags with a tax and a cultural shift away from use-and-toss plastic bags:
Plastic Tax: In 2001, Ireland implemented a plastic tax (or PlasTax); the first of its kind, this route acknowledges the fact that people will still occasionally use plastic bags. This market-based solution discourages daily, thoughtless use of plastic bags by charging a nominal fee per bag at checkout. In a study by the Irish Department of the Environment it was found that plastic bag usage had dropped 93.5%. This breaks down to a drop from 328 to 21 bags per person each year.
A cultural shift away from use-and-toss culture: Each reusable bag can eliminate hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic bags.
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