Â Photo courtesy of Flickr.
I found this depressing Salon article about plastic bags todayÂ via Boing Boing.
The plastic bag is an icon of convenience culture, by some estimates the single most ubiquitous consumer item on Earth, numbering in the trillions. They’re made from petroleum or natural gas with all the attendant environmental impacts of harvesting fossil fuels. One recent study found that the inks and colorants used on some bags contain lead, a toxin. Every year, Americans throw away some 100 billion plastic bags after they’ve been used to transport a prescription home from the drugstore or a quart of milk from the grocery store. It’s equivalent to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of oil.
Only 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled worldwide — about 2 percent in the U.S. — and the rest, when discarded, can persist for centuries. They can spend eternity in landfills, but that’s not always the case. “They’re so aerodynamic that even when they’re properly disposed of in a trash can they can still blow away and become litter,” says Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. It’s as litter that plastic bags have the most baleful effect. And we’re not talking about your everyday eyesore.
Once aloft, stray bags cartwheel down city streets, alight in trees, billow from fences like flags, clog storm drains, wash into rivers and bays and even end up in the ocean, washed out to sea. Bits of plastic bags have been found in the nests of albatrosses in the remote Midway Islands. Floating bags can look all too much like tasty jellyfish to hungry marine critters. According to the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, more than a million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die every year from eating or getting entangled in plastic. The conservation group estimates that 50 percent of all marine litter is some form of plastic. There are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. In the Northern Pacific Gyre, a great vortex of ocean currents, there’s now a swirling mass of plastic trash about 1,000 miles off the coast of California, which spans an area that’s twice the size of Texas, including fragments of plastic bags. There’s six times as much plastic as biomass, including plankton and jellyfish, in the gyre. “It’s an endless stream of incessant plastic particles everywhere you look,” says Dr. Marcus Eriksen, director of education and research for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which studies plastics in the marine environment. “Fifty or 60 years ago, there was no plastic out there.”
I’ve been seeing more and more stories about plastic bags since San Francisco took the bold step of banning them.
Here’s a previous post we did about plastic bags, which includes a terrific comment from a woman who stopped using them about 10 years ago and estimates that she has saved around 52,000 from entering the waste stream.
Here’s a page on the Greenpeace site about the Trash Vortex, an area in North Pacific Ocean that is about as big as Texas where garbage ends up in a big swirling nightmare.
Here are a couple of terrific Squidoo Lenses about Saying No To Plastic BagsÂ and Living Without Plastic Bags, with strategies for using fewer bags.
The New York Times also recently published an article about plastic bags and waste.
(Self promotion alert.) At Clean Air Gardening, we sell the Biobag line of bags that are made from biodegradable cornstarch. One is a bag for picking up dog poop, and the other is for keeping in your compost pail as a liner before you throw it into the compost bin.
We’re also looking into carrying a line of resuable shopping bags. Does anyone out there have a favorite type of bag that they would recommend that we carry?
On a personal level, my family purchased a bunch of reusable nylon bags for our grocery shopping. We use them most of the time, when we don’t forget to bring them. They’re actually a lot better than plastic bags, because they don’t fall apart when you put heavy stuff inside them.
Anyone have any strategies for reducing or eliminating the use of plastic bags that they’d like to share? If so, leave a comment.