Oh yeah, it’s a big problem.
First of all, plastic bags are made from petroleum, a buried liquid extracted from the earth and used to produce oil and gas for energy consumption. Plastic bags and petroleum are intrinsically linked. About 8% to 10% of our total oil supply goes to making plastic. It is estimated that about 12 million barrels of oil a year are used in making the plastic bags used in the US alone. That’s a big dent in our oil supply and a huge drain on the earth. Interestingly, these buried planetary oil reserves were created from nature’s own process of decomposition…returning organic materials back into useable molecules of earth.
Through the magic of technology and human inventiveness, we are able to take that natural material and turn it into something entirely unnatural — plastic — something that cannot be re-used by the earth. And then we spew this new material out into the air and water at an alarming rate.
How many plastic bags are used in a year? Well, if we go to a grocery or convenience store and accept their plastic bags to carry stuff home in…we might walk out with one, two, three or even more bags. We know that other people are doing the same thing. Just look around. Multiply that by a whole day, a whole year, all the other stores around the country and all the countries around the world…WOW!…It has been estimated that Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year!
This means the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year!!
Australians use in excess of 6 billion plastic bags per year, which, if tied together, would form a chain long enough to go around the world 37 times!
So we can safely say there are a LOT of bags in circulation. Circulation is a great word for what comes next. Where do these bags go? We use them for a few minutes and we toss them in the trash! But then where do they go? If we think they go to the landfill to decompose, think again. Plastic does not decompose. Ever. Decomposing, by definition, is a natural process by which natural materials are broken down by micro-organisms. These organisms are living things. Their eating habits have the benefit of breaking natural materials into smaller and smaller particles that eventually become soil again and return to the life cycle. Plastic, however, is not natural and not recognized as food, so it can’t be broken down that way. Sunlight can possibly break down the structure of plastic somewhat, over a long time, but a landfill is so full that most of the materials in it never see sunlight. If plastic does manage to break down, it never actually biodegrades into something natural. It breaks down into microscopic bits of plastic that are easily ingested (eaten), showing up in the bodies of fish and wildlife around the world.
Many of those plastic bags end up in trees, on roadsides, in drains or floating in the ocean. Plastic bags are the most common ingredient seen in huge floating piles of humanly generated oceanic debris. Animals mistake the plastic for food, eat it and die, which is sad enough once, but then, when their bodies decompose, the plastic, which does not decompose, is released back into the environment where it may again cause harm. Crazy.
Here is the place of POWER, however… every one of those bags was chosen by a person somewhere. That means that people can, at any moment, make a choice NOT to use a plastic bag. This is an easy decision any of us can make, one at a time. If many people adopted this simple habit, the collective effort would make a huge global impact. Imagine if the average American family invested in re-usable bags and brought them along when shopping. One shopping trip at a time. At the end of the year, 1500 plastic bags would NOT be in the environment. Multiply THAT by an entire country! What a huge change for the better.