Inside: Plastic Bags: 10 Controversial Facts You Need To Know

I can’t help but remember a commercial from my youth. An American Indian is crying while looking at all the pollution around him. He paddles his canoe to shore only to have a bag of fast food tossed at his feet as one lone tear trickles down his face. The American Indian was Iron Eyes Cody and though he wasn’t an American Indian (his real name was Espera de Corti — an Italian-American who simply got an acting gig) the commercial drove home the point of pollution and what we are doing to the environment. Iron Eyes Cody was still more American Indian than Elizabeth Warren but I digress.

Don't make Iron Eyes Cry!

Don’t make Iron Eyes Cry!

There’s been a meme circulating that says I’m old enough to remember when paper bags were being blamed for the destruction of trees and plastic bags were the answer. I remember this changeover well and people were up in arms the same way many are now.

Recently several states including my home state of New York have banned single-use plastic bags. Being a dog owner my first thought was “now what do I do with all the dog crap in my backyard” when instead my thoughts should have gone to the damage these bags do to our environment.

I’ve never considered myself much of an environmentalist or what some may call a “tree hugger”. However, with this new legislation going into place and my need for a new form of dog cleanup, I started to research some of the controversial facts about plastic bags. They are startling, to say the least.


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Plastic Bags 10 Controversial Facts You Need To Know

Over 100 billion plastic bags are used annually

The Wall Street Journal reported that the United States uses over 100 billion plastic bags annually. It seems like an unfathomable number but if you think about it everything you buy is brought home in some form of plastic bag. Groceries, hardware, clothing, etc.

Recycling practices

For every 200 bags that we use, only 1 plastic bag gets recycled. The remainder of those bags winds up flying around your neighborhood or filling up the landfills.

Average family usage

The average family will accumulate over 60+ plastic bags with every four trips to the grocery store. I thought when stores started charging for plastic bags like they did in NY that the number of bags I used might go down but they didn’t. It just became another cost associated with grocery shopping. Let’s face it at $.05 a piece they’re not breaking the bank for most people spending $50 or more a week on groceries.

Degradation

It takes 500 years or more for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill and that still doesn’t break down completely. That’s quite a few generations that will be experiencing the fallout from bags being used today!

Time of use

The lifespan of a plastic bag may be 500 years but on average we only use the bag itself for 12 minutes. That’s the time to take your items from the store and bring them home. If you’re like me you then take all your plastic bags and stuff them into another plastic bag for future use.

Pollution

Up to 80% of the plastic that pollutes our oceans comes from land. Pollution includes plastic bags, bottles, and other debris. There have been people trying for years to clear up the ocean pollution. Boyan Slat is a young man who has been dreaming about cleaning up the oceans his entire life and invented the machine that does just that.

READ MORE ABOUT BOYAN SLATS PROJECT HERE

Impact of using reusable bags

If just one person started using reusable bags over their lifetime, they would be removing 22,000 plastic bags from the environment. That is one single person. Imagine what we could do if half the population did this?

How far?

If you were to tie all the plastic bags in the world together end to end, they would circumvent the Earth 4,200 times.

Marine Life

Sadly, 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually.

How much oil is used to make all these bags

12 million barrels of oil are needed to manufacture the amount of bags used annually.  I could think of a few better uses for all that petroleum.

So the next time you’re heading out to the store, remember Iron Eyes Cody and bring your reusable bags with you. I recommend The Lawei 12 pack Reusable Grocery Bags from Amazon as they are durable, large and machine washable.

You should always machine wash your reusable bags, especially when using them for meat and vegetables. Machine washing will kill any bacteria that are living on the surfaces of the bags.

Does your state or country have a ban on plastic and how has it affected your shopping habits? Comment below and sign up for weekly updates from Dad On The Edge!

16 Comments

  1. Kat

    I’ve known that plastic bags are bad for the environment for a long time, but these facts are still startling. 22 000 bags are an incredible amount and it just goes to show that one person really can make a difference. I’ve used re-usable bags for a while, but occasionally I ‘slip up’ and forget them at home when going to the market. These facts are reason enough not to let that happen again.

    Reply
    • Scott DeNicola

      I slip up too! Most times they are in my wife car and I flat our forget to take them.

      Reply
  2. Ashlee

    Some of these facts, I knew but it still shocks my pants off that the lifespan of a plastic bag may be 500 years and we really only use them for like 4 blinks. This article is so necessary because you forget just how long term and harmful these seemingly pretty and innocent bags and other plastic items can be.

    Reply
    • Scott DeNicola

      It blew my mind as well when I wrote and researched it. I was one of those people who never gave it much thought. Not so much anymore.

      Reply
  3. Nicole Anderson | Camping for Women

    For many years now, my love of spending time in nature has influenced my thinking about plastic bags and the harm they do to our environment. Even so, to read the statistics you have cited here really makes me wonder why there isn’t a much broader and more effective educational campaign to get the word out about this – and why it has taken so long for the plastic bag ban to be introduced in various jurisdictions. We sure need more people like you, helping to spread the word, so that future generations can enjoy the real natural beauty of our planet, the way previous generations have.

    Reply
  4. Lyosha

    Plastic bag are horror. I think it is horrible we still use it. I personally go for reusable not plastic bags for everything and try to buy package free products (it doesn’t always work unfortunately. I worry that during the pandemic ecological consciousness will become significantly lower

    Reply
    • Scott DeNicola

      NY put off the ban on single-use plastic bags due to the pandemic. So we shall see when that goes into effect.

      Reply
  5. Lene

    The City of Toronto accidentally band plastic bags for about six months several years ago (long story) and people adjusted really quickly. Then the ban was lifted and most people went back to just getting a plastic bag when shopping. That said, the tide is turning. More and more people are bringing their own bags, as am I. But like you, I have a very legit need for non-reusable bags — cat litter. You can get compostable poop bags, so that’s something. They were initially more for picking up after your dog when taking a walk, but I have seen larger versions for dog owners with a yard.

    Reply
  6. Melanie williams

    I love this such a great post to raise awareness for our lovely planet. so many people underestimate plastic, so anything that fly’s the flag to educate is great x

    Reply
  7. Britt K

    We have a vast selection of reusable bags – storing some in the jeep while others are at home when necessary. In addition, we have switched to using biodegradable poop bags for the dogs when we’re out and about. This is one small way that we know that we can make a difference. That being said – in light of the current COVID-19 situation, many grocery stores are stating that they will no longer accept reusable bags until this passes, so we are having to accept plastic bags once again.

    Reply
    • Scott DeNicola

      That’s what happened in NY. Ban was supposed to go into effect than the pandemic so they eased it back

      Reply
  8. Subhashish Roy

    These are truly disturbing facts and all around the world where we are still using these single use plastics we are causing irreparable damage to the environment. Yet many are still continuing to use these in our country despite the ban by our government due to the apathy of law enforcing authorities. Our shortsightedness will make the world unlivable for the younger generation in the future. I feel so frustrated at times seeing these people around but can’t do much except getting angry.

    Reply
  9. Erica (The Prepping Wife)

    I’m like you, plastic bags are re-used for poop in my house too. Every single day, a plastic bag is used to clean Tigger’s box. Several years ago a neighboring city banned plastic bags, which of course brought up the whole tree-hugging comments too. Now the entire state has done it, so I have a pile of them always waiting and ready to go to the store with me. Right now with the Coronavirus going on, to use these bags, I have to bag my own groceries. Which isn’t a huge deal, but apparently has caused a huge backlash in the store I normally shop at. I wash mine after every trip to the store to keep them clean, but I seriously doubt too many people actually do that, making it a haven for germs and bacteria. I had no clue until I read this just how bad plastic bags are on the environment.

    Reply
  10. Debra Roberts

    I remember that commercial with the native American crying. It used to choke me up pretty good, to be honest. I hate plastic bags and try to always take my own or at least reuse them to the point they fall apart. One of my cats got her head stuck in the handle of one and went nuts and almost hurt herself trying to get it off her neck…another terrible thing about those evil things. In Europe, you have to pay for each bag…I think like 10 cents, which really encourages shoppers to be more mindful to bring reusable bags. The only downfall to the reusables is contamination. They don’t always hold up in the laundry very well. I am working on saving up those heavy canvas types that I can toss in the washer, vs the plastic or thin burlap types.

    Reply
    • Scott DeNicola

      They charge $.10 for plastic bags in NY as well.

      Reply
  11. Alexandra

    Oh man, I already recycle the extra plastic grocery bags but this was really an eye-opener! Right now I’m trying to figure out what would I do with all the pullups I use on my son when I change him? Also containing plastic, I’m sure.

    Since COVID-19 I have been finding myself in a shortage of those grocery bags I use for his diapers only because we don’t go to the store as much. I wonder what I could use as an alternative. For the diapers, that is. I already know what I could use when I go grocery shopping.

    Reply

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