Plastic bags start out as fossil fuels and end up as deadly waste in landfills and the ocean. Birds often mistake shredded plastic bags for food, filling their stomachs with toxic debris. For hungry sea turtles, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between jellyfish and floating plastic shopping bags. Fish eat thousands of tons of plastic a year, transferring it up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals.
Despite all of this, plastic bags are in almost every American home because retail stores continue to use them for nearly every purchase made.
10 facts about single-use plastic bags
- Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture.
- It only takes about 14 plastic bags for the equivalent of the gas required to drive one mile.
- The average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.
- According to Waste Management, only 1 percent of plastic bags are returned for recycling. That means that the average family only recycles 15 bags a year; the rest end up in landfills or as litter.
- Up to 80 percent of ocean plastic pollution enters the ocean from land.
- At least 267 different species have been affected by plastic pollution in the ocean.
- 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually.
- One in three leatherback sea turtles have been found with plastic in their stomachs.
- Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes.
- It takes 500 (or more) years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. Unfortunately the bags don’t break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming micro-plastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.
What you can do?
• Bring reusable totes to the store to use for purchases, instead of single-use plastic bags.
• Re-use plastic bags for other things like pet waste, lining your garbage cans, carrying things.
• Recycle your clean plastic bags at participating local stores (Walmart, Target), or other recycling centers that take them. Plastic bags/wraps typically do not get recycled in curbside bins. They must be returned to participating drop-off locations for recycling.
• Pick up discarded plastic bags that you see around town so that they don’t find their way into lakes and streams.