Since the 1970s, when plastic shopping bags were introduced to the marketplace, they have become an increasing environmental blight. Though they are among the most reused items in the home, recycled after bringing the home the groceries to serve as trash can liners, lunch bags, doggie clean-ups, and more, millions end up littering streets, clogging sewer drains, and polluting waterways and oceans.
It is estimated that up to a trillion plastic bags are dumped into landfills yearly, approximately a million bags per minute. They are not biodegradable, taking hundreds of years to photodegrade into toxin-laden bits of waste. The manufacturing of plastic bags uses from 60 to 100 million barrels of oil yearly resulting in tons of carbon emissions. It is estimated that plastic bags and debris result in the deaths of over 1 million seabirds, 100,00 marine mammals, and 100,000 sea turtles every year.
Environmental Action Being Taken
Many regions in the world are saying “enough!” by banning the use of plastic shopping bags or taxing their use. Ireland introduced a significant tax for each bag, equivalent to about 20 cents in the United States, that has reduced the use by 95 percent. Bangladesh has banned them outright after plastic bags were implicated in contributing to devastating floods by blocking drainage systems. In 2008, China banned the use of single-use plastic shopping bags completely, followed in 2009, by South Australia. Many other countries are taking steps to reduce or eliminate their use, including the United States.
In May 2010, the California Assembly passed a bill, AB1998, banning the use of plastic shopping bags in the state, with a minimum 5 cent per bag charge for recycled paper bags at check-out. The bill is expected to pass the California State Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Schwarzenegger to become effective January 1, 2012. Washington D.C. currently levies a 5 cent fee for each plastic bag, with Baltimore, MD considering a 25 cent per bag fee. Many other municipalities are considering similar action. Clearly, the age of the plastic shopping bag is coming to an end.
Reusable Shopping Bags
Reusable shopping bags are not only the environmentally wise alternative, they are also superior for the user. They are much stronger and easily carried with comfortable handles. No more having to clean up the mess of broken jars from the sidewalk or chasing cans down the driveway when the flimsy bags break through. They can be easily folded up and stored under the seat in the car for the next shopping trip for convenience. They are also useful for many other applications, such as trips to the beach or overnighters for the kids, and are available in fashionable designs.
Eco-Friendly Shopping Bags
When choosing reusable grocery shopping bags, choose bags that are made from environmentally friendly, biodegradable fibers. Jute, hemp, and bamboo bags are all excellent choices, with the fibers being extremely durable and the crops organically grown without need of fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, jute is grown in some of the poorest countries with the purchase of jute products helping to combat the extreme poverty in these areas.
During their lifetimes, reusable shopping bags made from these fibers will eliminate over 1,000 plastic bags each. When they have met their end, all of them can be added to your compost for final recycling and service in naturally fertilizing your garden. Even in areas where plastic shopping bags are still allowed to be provided for free for the time being, starting now to use eco-friendly reusable shopping bags is such a simple way to make a big impact on eliminating much of the trash and pollution causing such damage to the environment and the creatures inhabiting it.
Roach, John, "Are Plastic Grocery Bags Sacking the Environment?" National Geographic, September 2, 2003.
Schmeister, Lisa, "Is This the Future of Our Grocery Shopping?" SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle, March 12, 2010.
"Nickel Fee on Bags Cutting Use in Washington," The Baltimore Sun, February 27, 2010.
"Irish Bag Tax Hailed a Success" BBC News, August 20, 2002.
Photo Attribution: Our New Eco Friendly Shopping Bags, KRISnFRED, Flickr