Lightweight plastic shopping bags may seem like convenient, inexpensive ways to tote purchased goods. The problem is,
they are astoundingly bad for the environment, taking centuries to decompose, ending up in dumps, or floating in oceans. Plastic bag pollution is a problem on a global scale.
Since their widespread global adoption in the 1980’s, trillions of lightweight plastic shopping bags have been produced. Critics call the use of the bags a problem that highlights a global throw-away culture.
The Scale Of The Plastic Bag Pollution Problem
- Between 500 billion and a trillion bags are used each year on a global basis
- Over 100 billion plastic bags are used annually in the European Union, with 8 billion ending up as trash that enters oceans and seas
- About 102 billion bags are used in the U.S. each year
Legislators Move To Reduce Bag Pollution
Sensing the scale of the problem, legislators in some places have moved forward to ban or tax the bags:
- In 2008 China banned lightweight plastic bags. So far the country has cut consumption by at least 67 billion bags
- Irish legislators passed the PlasTax, requiring shoppers to pay a fee for each plastic shopping bag they used. The tax reduced average bag consumption from 328 bags per person per year to 21
- In the European Union, where citizens use an average of 200 plastic bags each year, member nations plan to reduce single-use plastic bag consumption by 80% by 2019. Each nation will devise their own plan to hit the 80% goal.
- Hawaii completely banned lightweight plastic bags
Some Good News About Plastic Shopping Bags
If you have plastic shopping bags, you should recycle or reuse them. Studies have shown that the manufacturing of plastic bags produces less greenhouse gas than paper or cotton bags do. But greenhouse gas savings are meaningless if the plastic bags end up as litter.
Updated. Photos courtesy Duncan Hill via Creative Commons, modified by Curiousmatic.