“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year. According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion).”(1)
- Four out of five grocery bags in the U.S. are plastic.
- The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store.
- A person uses a plastic bag on average for only 12 minutes.
- On average we only recycle one plastic bag in every 200 we use.
What we know right now is that plastic bags, straws, micro beads of plastic etc. are being found throughout our environment: including the Mariana Trench (2); the bellies of young chicks of sea going birds that have died, including Penguins; in sea turtles, sea mammals, and fish, whcih eventually wind up in our own food supplies.
According to sources from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA National Ocean Service, and other agencies, we know the following facts: (3)
- Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade. This means the plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller toxic bits. One plastic bag can take between 400 to 1,000 years to break down in the environment.
- As it breaks down, plastic particles contaminate soil and waterways and enter the food web when animals accidentally ingest them.
- In the ocean, these particles eventually end up in massive whirlpool-like currents in the oceans called gyres. Our planet has five major gyres.
- In some locations, there is 46 times more plastic than available food for marine animals (plastic bags cause over 100,000 sea turtle and other marine animal deaths every year).
- Nearly 90% of the debris in our oceans is plastic.
- Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found during coastal cleanups as reported by the Center for Marine Conservation.
- Plastic debris accumulates persistent organic pollutants (POPs) like PCBs and DDT at high concentrations. Many of these pollutants are known endocrine disruptors (chemicals that can interfere with endocrine or hormone systems causing cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders).
- When fish and other marine animals ingest plastic debris, they are also ingesting these toxins.
- If the food we eat is contaminated with toxins, we will be contaminated as well.
Thinking in terms about the individual contributions to be made . . . if an average family accumulates 60 plastic bags per 4 trips to the grocery store (basically a one month supply), that equals 720 bags per year . . . 6 reusable bags would eliminate those 720 bags. Take that times the number of households in your own neighborhood, say 125 households, which would equal 90,000 plus bags annually.
To put this in terms of the US Government Census stats: between 2013-2017 the Kansas City Metropolitan area consisted of 198,935 households. If just plastic grocery bags were banned, it would remove roughly 143 million plastic bags from our regional environment — all by reusing 6 reusable grocery bags. This does not even address the shopping bags from clothing stores and such.
At a much broader level, there are approximately 4.06 million households between the states of Missouri and Kansas according to the 2017 records at the United States Census Bureau (4). Following the mathematics above, using the 720 plastic grocery bags (yearly average per household), bans on plastic grocery bags alone would eliminate roughly 2.0 Billion bags just from two states, in one year.
These statics are alarming. The bottom line; the toxin in plastic, which once seemed so harmless and a great idea when introduced as a replacement to paper bags, are poisoning the oceans and winding up in the our own food supplies. The proliferation in the use of plastic has been in direct relation to the increase of cancers across the globe, as well as birth defects, and in this researchers humble opinion, more likely to be causing the increase of various autoimmune diseases, including autism. Think about it— research the stats.
Some simple answers to how we battle this issue of plastic proliferation:
- Invest in purchasing or making your own reusable grocery/shopping bags. Ideally, these bags should be washable especially when used for food.
- USE the reusable bags. There are numerous and convenient ways to do this.
- Recycle the bags you currently have. If you are crafty, they can be used to make reusable “plastic fabric” items — [please see the “how to” at the end of this article].
- Don’t use straws / or bring your own reusable stainless steel straw.
- Reusable mugs /cups for drinks.
- Reject any/all Styrofoam products.
- Take your own reusable containers for left over/carry outs.
- Buy from Eco-Responsible vendors.
- Write your representatives to present and back bills that ban plastic bags, containers, straws etc.
- Come up with your own ideas to handle this issue and share them.
The more voices, the stronger the message, the more successful the outcome.
- Conserving Now, Accessed 15 May 2019,
- National Geographic News, Accessed 15 May 2019,
- Conserving Now, Accessed 15 May 2019
- Missouri and Kansas Statistics, United States Census Bureau, Accessed 15 May 2019. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/
What’s The Problem with Plastic is Part One of an ongoing column discussing a number of issue that lead to waste problems in the United States. As a society based on Capitalism, consumerism becomes a natural by product. With consumerism comes a large amount of thoughtless waste, most developed in the name of progress without properly conducted studies concerning the long term effects. Waste, and what we do with it, has a huge impact on the Earth. Together, we need to be proactive in solving the issues of human generated climate change.
As promised: How does one recycle the plastic already globbing up the globe? One way is to turn it into usable ‘fabric’ — Fuse It! “How to” instructions can be found at the following website for the crafting of everything from Makeup Pouches to Sunglass Cases — just add your own imagination: