The other day, someone stole my shopping cart right out of the frozen food aisle. The nerve! So, as I’m walking around Price Chopper like a total dope looking for it, I’m picturing this guy in a flannel shirt with missing buttons, sprawled out on a stained purple sofa and eating my Ben & Jerry’s out of the container.
But I have to say, it served me right. The reason I’d stepped away from my cart to begin with was because I’d forgotten my reusable shopping bags—AGAIN. And, because I’ve been doing some research on waste and plastics, and since I’d announced to the whole world (or, at least, to my eleven Facebook friends) my commitment to making lifestyle changes to help the environment, and because the best of intentions aren’t enough to save the planet, I went back to my car to get them.
So, here are some not-so-fun facts:
- More than 3 million tons of single-use plastic bags, sacks, and wraps are manufactured every year.
- It takes 12 million barrels of oil to make 100 billion bags.
- A single family in the US will use and throw away 1,500 bags each year; that’s 100 billion bags per year for all of us together. (An average person in Denmark uses about 4 plastic bags per year. Just saying.)
- Manufacturing and transporting plastic bags produces greenhouse gasses.
- Plastic shopping bags are recyclable, but only around 0.5% of them actually get recycled.
- The process of recycling them produces carbon emissions, too.
- At best, if the conditions are right, a plastic bag will break down in a landfill after about 20 years, but the ink and chemicals used to make the bags seep toxins into the ground.
- At worst, a plastic bag could take 500 to 1,000 years to break down, although plastics haven’t been around long enough to test that theory.
- Plastic bags are among the list of top ten pieces of trash that wash up on beaches.
- Many of them don’t wash up. They sink to the bottom where they never biodegrade, drift along on the surface for who knows how long, or are eaten by sea animals that later become sick and die.
- According to the United Nations Environment Program, every square mile of ocean contains approximately 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.
With all that bad news, it might not be so far fetched that people on the Internet are saying we’re in a plastic bag pandemic. Paraphrasing from WebMD, “pandemic” is defined by the number of deaths from a given disease that spreads over a wide enough geographic area. If you look at the fact that single-use plastic bags—whether they’re baggies, shopping bags, or tall kitchen garbage bags—have been a part of daily life for people world-wide for over 50 years, and that today there is more than 7 billion of us and that plastic bags continue to pile up everywhere, making our planet sick, it could qualify. Even if you think those Internet people are being over-dramatic, there’s no denying it’s a problem.
Think about this: the first plastic baggies rolled off the assembly line in 1957. That means it’s only taken 59 years for us to have to worry about whether we meet criteria for a plastic bag pandemic. And, if you go by the 500-1,000-years-to-biodegrade theory, those baggies from 1957 are still sitting in a landfill somewhere. It’s a good thing we weren’t pumping out 3 million per year back then. We’d be neck deep in plastic baggies by now.
But there are simple fixes that could stop us from piling on to this growing global problem; for starters, don’t accept those free bags at the grocery counter and bring reusable ones to put your chips and milk and bananas in instead. (Said the woman who lost her shopping cart, because she forgot her bags in car.) I’m going to try harder to remember mine and look for other ways to reduce the use of plastics, as well.
But this topic has made me curious. I wonder how various States in our country and countries around the world have addressed the plastic bag pandemic? I bet there are plenty of us who are doing the right things. Think I’ll go look into that.
Until next week…