Worldwide, people dispose between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags every year, according to a 2008 report by Waste Management. Plastic bags are everywhere; under our sink, jammed into compartments in our cars, lining our bathroom trash bins… and caught in trees and bushes at the park and on the side of the freeways.
The Problem with Plastic Bags
Plastic of any kind is a challenge for the environment because it’s specially built to not break down, which means that it stays indefinitely wherever it ends up, whether that’s in a landfill, in the ocean, or in an animal’s digestive tract. Plastic bags are an especial problem for a few reasons:
- Because they’re cheap and easy, we use them indiscriminately, certainly much more than we need to.
- Their lightweight composition makes them easily blown-about, which means that although they might start in garbage cans, they often end up somewhere else entirely.
- They’re more difficult to recycle than most plastics because they clog up sorting machines, and most municipalities don’t allow them in curbside recycling.
For these reasons, we have to be proactive about protecting the environment against the effects of plastic bag pollution.
What You Can Do
There are a few simple things that you can do to reduce your contribution to plastic bag waste. First and foremost, reduce the frequency with which you use them. Reusable grocery shopping bags are available everywhere, and chances are good that you already have a few that you simply forget to bring with you when you go out shopping. Make a habit of putting them right back in the car as soon as you empty them in your kitchen. Additionally, you might get one or two that easily pack into your purse so that you always have them with you as you check out.
You can also reduce waste by seeking out places to properly dispose of plastic bags. Even if it’s not available curbside, you can look into individual recycling programs, like that offered by Target for free. You can also usually return your grocery bags to the store where you first got them and they’ll have a recycling program available.