The Ocean Conservancy reported cleaning up over 354,000 bags during a coastal cleanup in the U.S. and 100 other countries. Planet Ark, an international environmental group, tallied over 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals killed by plastic bags each year worldwide.
And still Americans used over 100 billion plastic bags last year, which required over 12 million barrels of oil to produce, and cost more than $200 million per year to clean up as litter. Eight billion pounds of plastic bags enter the waste stream every year in the U.S. alone.
Many bags collected for recycling never actually get recycled. Some are shipped off to developing countries with lax environmental laws that allow them to be incinerated, which produces massive air pollution and soil degradation. Recycling centers are diminishing for plastic bags because it is not economically feasible to recycle bags.
"It costs $4,000 to process and recycle one ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32," says Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco's Department of the Environment.
San Francisco is the first major U.S. city to outright ban plastic bags. Ireland passed a "Plastax," which reduced bag consumption by 90 percent, saved more than 180,000,000 liters of oil and raised $9.6 million dollars for its "green fund." South Africa's bag tax appears on printed grocery store receipts to remind consumers how much money they could have saved by bringing their own bags.
If we brought our own reusable bag into the store we would save six bags a week, 24 bags each month and 288 bags per year, according to Planet Ark. If just one in five people in our country did this, we would save over a trillion bags and 159 million barrels of oil over our life time. While many of us have already made the switch, some are reluctant or just forgetful.
If you would like "do something drastic and ban the plastic," here's a few suggestions from www.PlanetArk.com:
— Designate a local champion to coordinate your town's Plastic Bag Free campaign.
— Network with other community groups that may help.
— Compile a list of retailers in your town that use plastic check-out bags.
— Enlist the help of your independently owned stores, especially ones offering reusable bags.
— Run an information night for retailers and the local community to attend.
— Try to create a retailer's alliance that orders reusable bags in bulk.
— Work with your local government to ask them to sponsor a Plastic Bag Free Town campaign.
— Get retailers to sign off on their commitment to go Plastic Bag Free.
— Set a launch date for when your town will be Plastic Check-Out Bag Free.
— Make local launch date announcement so all residents are aware of their town going Plastic Check-Out Bag Free.
— Arrange Plastic Bag Free Town launch day with reusable bags to hand out and local elected officials in attendance.
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at [email protected]