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Plastic Bags: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I have moved on from my Energy and Environment class to an Environmental Law class. I am doing research on plastic bag laws. The web site reusit.com has some interesting facts about plastic bags:


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.
• 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.
• 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)

What is the Solution?

There are some states that have introduced plastic bag taxes/fees and have mandated that stores collect plastic bags and send them to a recycling facility. These are good first steps, but I think they are insufficient. Some places have promoted paper bags and compostable bags as a way to reduce the amount of plastic entering the environment. Unfortunately, paper bags and compostable bags unnecessarily consume resources. We have to change our habits and use reusable bags. In order to change habits, multiple strategies will have to be implemented – a fee for carry-out bags, rewards for using reusable bags, and education to let consumers know the harmful impact of plastic bags on the environment and how convenient it can be to use reusable bags.