Plastic Bag Facts; The Scoop On Plastic
Plastic shopping bags pose an enormous impact on the environment and its inhabitants, when not recycled. Of all the polluters our planet crosses daily, plastic bags should be considered lethal and banned. The issue with plastic bags is the fact when they are not recycled they end up in the throats & stomach of wildlife, clogging gutters and sewers, and floating in waterways. Plastic bags are dangerous to all types of sea life because they are flexible, and shaped just right to trap an animal or get wrapped around an animal’s neck or fin. If the bag gets stuck over a creature’s head, it can suffocate or starve.
Plastic bags pose a particular hazard to the environment when they make it into our oceans. Over 70% of the world is covered by water, and there are thousands upon thousands of miles of coastline where the bags can wash up. Once the bags are in the water, they aren’t easily biodegradable- meaning that they can remain there for hundreds of years. Plastic bags are not biodegradable, they actually photodegrade. Meaning plastic bags break down into small toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways.
North America and Western Europe account for nearly 80 percent of plastic bag use. Each year, Americans throw away some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags , which is an enormous amount of trash to hit landfills or environment. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. With an estimated cost of $4 billion to the retailer, you as the consumer are paying for the plastic bags, as the cost is factored into grocery costs. Australians consume about 6.9 billion plastic bags each year, that’s 326 per person. According to Australia’s Department of Environment, an estimated 49,600,000 annually end up as litter.
Let’s take a look at some plastic bag facts (UPDATED- Numbers do vary by news source)
* Approximately 1 billion seabirds and mammals die each year by ingesting plastics. 
* Less than 1% of all plastic bags are recycled in the U.S.
* Supermarkets around the world are encouraging shoppers to ditch plastic bags by offering a small per-bag refund or charging extra for plastic.
* Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris found most often in coastal cleanups.
* According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA), in 2001 there were somewhere between 500 billion and one trillion plastic bags used around the world. Of those, one to three percent end up as litter.
Plastic bags have become popular because they are inexpensive to produce and waterproof. However, the durability that makes them so good at holding our groceries makes them very harmful to the environment. They never fully degrade (they leave a kind of plastic dust that can pollute the Earth for hundreds of years). Because of that, it’s absolutely essential that we recycle them whenever possible, and keep them out of landfills and waterways. Or better yet, refuse plastic bags and use reusable bags!
Sources: 1. Worldwatch Institute, Good Stuff? – Plastic Bags, http://www.worldwatch.org/node/1499
Source: 2. ABC News- Just One Thing: Green Your Grocery Bags (May 09) http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/JustOneThing/story?id=7693117&page=1