The Problem With Plastic Bags

Plastic bags start out as fossil fuels and end up as deadly waste in landfills and the ocean. Birds often mistake shredded plastic bags for food, filling their stomachs with toxic debris. For hungry sea turtles, it's nearly impossible to distinguish between jellyfish and floating plastic shopping bags. Fish eat thousands of tons of plastic a year, transferring it up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals. Microplastics are also consumed by people through food and in the air. It’s estimated that globally, people consume the equivalent of a credit card of plastic every week,1 and it’s expected that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.2

The fossil fuel industry plans to increase plastic production by 40% over the next decade. These oil giants are rapidly building petrochemical plants across the United States to turn fracked gas into plastic. This means more plastic in our oceans, more greenhouse gas emissions and more toxic air pollution, which exacerbates the climate crisis that often disproportionately affects communities of color.


10 Facts About Single-Use Plastic Bags

Plastic Bag Facts
  1. The world uses 5 trillion plastic bags a year.3
  2. Americans use an average of 365 plastic bags per person per year. People in Denmark use an average of four plastic bags per year.4
  3. It only takes about 14 plastic bags for the equivalent of the gas required to drive one mile.5
  4. In 2015 about 730,000 tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were generated (including PS, PP, HDPE, PVC & LDPE) in the United States, but more than 87% of those items are never recycled, winding up in landfills and the ocean.6
  5. About 34% of dead leatherback sea turtles have ingested plastics.7
  6. The plastic typically used in bottles, bags and food containers contains chemical additives such as endocrine disruptors, which are associated with negative health effects including cancers, birth defects and immune system suppression in humans and wildlife.8
  7. It takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. Unfortunately, the bags don't break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.9
  8. Chemical leachates from plastic bags impair the growth of the world’s most important microorganisms, Prochlorococcus, a marine bacterium that provides one tenth of the world’s oxygen.10
  9. There were 1.9 million grocery bags and other plastic bags collected in the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup.11
  10. In 2014 California became the first state to ban plastic bags. As of March 2018, 311 local bag ordinances have been adopted in 24 states, including Hawaii.12 As of July 2018, 127 countries have adopted some form of legislation to regulate plastic bags.13

Ways You Can Help

  1. Support the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which would phase out throwaway plastics, hold the industry responsible for its waste and pause construction on new plastic-making plants. Ask your members of Congress to cosponsor this crucial bill aimed at tackling the plastic pollution crisis head on.
  2. Practice waste prevention first and choose to reuse whenever possible. Make sure to always bring a reusable bag when shopping. By regularly washing your bags and drying them thoroughly, you can reuse them over and over.14
  3. One company, Formosa Plastics, is trying to build a mega-polluting petrochemical plant in Louisiana that would harm a Black community, degrade wetlands, and deepen the plastic pollution crisis. Sign the petition asking President Biden to revoke Formosa Plastics’ federal permit, which is currently suspended and under reevaluation by the Army Corps of Engineers.
  4. President Biden can address the plastic pollution crisis rapidly through executive action. Demand that he take bold action on plastics for our health, climate and wildlife.

Learn more about how plastic pollution threatens wildlife.

Banner photo courtesy Flickr/Minustide.