Everyone knows that plastic is bad for the environment. We don’t need to spell it out again, but some facts are important to know and since people respond to numbers, here are a few facts on plastic bags I found on LivingGreen that may help solidify your resolve :
- Less than 1% is recycled. It actually cost more to recycle a plastic bag than to produce one-there is no monetary incentive to recycle plastic bags.
- Many of our garbage bags are dumped illegally in our oceans. A study in 1975 showed that ocean going vessels dumped 8 million pounds of plastic bags annually.
- Billions of plastic bags also find their way into oceans via rivers, drains and sewage pipes where the effects on aquatic animals such as turtles, sea birds, whales, dolphins and seals are catastrophic. These animals ingest plastic or become entangled resulting in agonizing deaths. The unsuspecting creatures often mistake the floating plastic for food! Plastic bags are found in most oceans of the world. (World Wildlife Report, 2005)
- A study of albatross chicks on Midway Island, near Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, found that nine out of 10 birds had plastic garbage in their gullets.
- Plastic bags do not decompose! They break into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers which eventually contaminate our soil, our waterways. In time the toxic microscopic particles enter our food chain. (CNN.com/technology/Nov.6 2007)
- Plastic cannot be burned or buried safely. When it is burned it produces fluorocarbons which are carcinogens.
- When we bury plastic bags they block the natural supply of air and water to the soil. This affects plant life directly and the chain of life indirectly.
- Plastic bags can even cause landslides when plant life in mountains is reduced. Plastic bags clog the sewage pipes and often cause water to be stagnant. It reduces the water retaining capacity of the soil and this in turn affects the water table.
Traditional bags are made from petroleum products which can release toxic compounds into the air that are known to cause major health issues.
Now, more and more bags are made from polymers called polyethylene that are, for most part, recyclable. Great right? Not exactly. The problem seems to be that bags can be made of different types of resin that although look very similar, when broken down, can’t exactly be easily recycled. So if you ARE going to put plastic bags in the recycling, make sure that they have the recycling symbol with the numbers 1, 4 or 5, as other numbers may not be recyclable in your area.
What about the new trends of biodegradable bags? This seemed to be the greatest idea since the corn and potato starches are made to biodegrade or photo degrade when in contact with air or light in less than 18 months! WONDERFUL! Not… this will only work if you bag is on top of a free standing hill of trash and according to an amazing article on HealthGoods.com, 95% of all trash is land filled. “In landfills, garbage is buried beneath layers of soil that make it difficult for air or sunlight to reach discarded items. The fact is that most plastic bags just don't degrade, even in a compost pile. There are some new starch-based plastics that may be more degradable. But few grocery bags are made from that type of product.”
So, short of it is there really is no easy answer to plastic bags besides stopping using them. Carry around reusable bags in your car, buy little foldable bags to put in your purse or pockets, carry out small items when you know you don’t need to carry it very far and if you MUST, ask for paper bags when leaving the store! Those are easily recycled, are often made of recycled paper and can easily be transformed.
As a final note, here is the link to Thomas’s post, on Renewables at Home, that responded to my challenge and wrote an excellent article you all should read! Thank you for jumping in Thomas!
Here is another one of my readers (Harri Pao) that took the challenge and wrote about how they eliminate plastic bags in their daily lives.