Are You Ready to Ban Plastic Bags?

plastic-bags-planetWould you believe that the United States consumes 100 billion plastic bags every year? It sounds unbelievable, but according to the Wall Street Journal this very well might be the case. In fact, some sources believe that the simple plastic bag we so often take for granted ranks as the most widely produced consumer product on the planet.

To manufacture enough plastic bags for the United States alone requires 12 million barrels of oil, producing unbelievable amounts of waste. states that, as of 1998, 89% of the floating waste observed in the North Pacific Ocean was composed of disposable plastics.

Even more terrifying than it’s tremendous numbers is the plastic bag’s durability. Since no organism feeds on plastic, there is no avenue for its decomposition. A plastic bag can sit in a landfill, or even the oceans bottom, for centuries, perhaps breaking into smaller and smaller pieces, but never disappearing entirely. There is no debate: plastic shopping bags are bad for the environment. The question is what can we do about it?

While the damage produced by plastic bags is devastating, is the solution to outright ban plastic bags? Some cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, have said yes, placing a plastic bag ban on larger grocery stores. An article on outlines the chosen solution in Ireland: a plastic bag tax. By placing a 22-cent tax on every plastic bag the consumer must make the deliberate choice to use the bags. The tax has driven down use by 90%. Some countries have gone all the way with a plastic bag ban, including Bangladesh, which has been plastic bag free since 2002.

What about recycling plastic bags? Unfortunately for plastic bags, it seems that current municipal recycling programs are simply not up to the task. Because a recycling symbol is often prominently displayed on the bag, many users throw plastic grocery bags in with their normal recyclables. This often has the opposite of the intended effect. Since most city recycling programs do not have the facilities to recycle plastic bags they are forced to ship them to the dump, adding another layer of travel and sorting to an already taxed system. Instead, take your plastic bags back to the grocery store. Several large chains, including Wal-Mart, have their own recycling programs in place for the standard polyethylene shopping bag.

However, the best option to help the environment and combat the constant consumption of plastic bags is to ban plastic bags for yourself. Rather than waiting for legislation, take the small steps now to cut them out of your routine. The best option is to carry your own reusable tote bag. Just keep a few in your car at all times, making it a cinch to pick up groceries as you normally would. Another option is to request paper bags, which, while still wasteful, can be recycled or naturally decomposed.

New alternatives, such as bags made from biodegradable corn fibers, are emerging all over the country. The facts are in: plastic bags are bad for the environment. Ban plastic bags in your own life and you will be making a tremendous difference for our world.

About Barbara Holbrook

Barbara lives in Southern California where she writes about technology, design and smart ways to go green.


  1. I am against the banning of plastic. What are the other options for those of us who shop once a week and don’t have cloth bags? Paper? That option is worse for the environment than plastic!It uses more energy and pollutes the environment in its manufacturing than plastic. It take 15-20 yrs for a tree to grow large enough to produce 700 bags. Only 700!! They do NOT naturally decompose. Check studies done by Dr. William Rathke, Univ. of Arizona, on landfills. Papers that are 40 yrs old are still readable.Paper can be composted if shredded into small strips.The failure of plastic recycling is the big problem. Only 8% per yr according to the EPA. Take them back to your grocery store. Only 1.5% of the petroleum used in the US ends up in plastic bags. The answer? Landfill biodegradable bags- and not PLA (corn based) and not oxy degradables. There are plastics that can biodegrade in landfills in 1-5 yrs and produce methane that can be harvested for free energy.That is the answer.

  2. Robin Callista says:

    @ Leslie,

    Here’s a ground breaking solution to your predicament: buy cloth bags! If you can affors cloth bags, you probably are spending too much on food in the first place. If you’re too disorganized to keep several coth bags with you when you go grocery shopping, then yoiu probably don’t deserve to eat. Problem solved.

  3. Cloth bags can pick up bacteria from meats and other foods put in them. You have to be diligent about washing them. Some are even made with heavy metals that are not good for human contact. I recycle all my plastic bags.

    Your comment that I should not deserve to eat is insane. You obviously have not taken your medications lately.

  4. Maezy Candelario Cañete says:

    Bilang isang estudyante na pinag-aaralan ang isyung kapaligiran ay naiintindihan ko ang bawat opinyon. Pero para sa akin ay walang masama sa paggamit ng plastic bag kung ang mga tao ay may sapat lamang na disiplina. Maari namang linisin ang plastic bag kapag may malansang amoy. Kung tela bags naman ay linisin lamang rin ito. Nasa tao lamang kung dami-dami ang mga suliranin sa kapaligiran. If we don’t have discipline then imagine our future with black atmosphere and mountains of garbages.

  5. If there are laws banning plastics, we can use the Biodegradable plastics which can be decompose from 3 to 6 months. Besides we are now using papers, currently being done in at least 45 countries, especially a Tree-free paper. Non-tree based papers require less bleaching and less energy to produce. I would say, We are Ready!

  6. We know that plastics are bad for environment for it takes 10-1,000 years to decompose. There have been projects launched regarding this plastic pollution like “The Ocean Cleanup” which collects tons of plastics but it isn’t enough. There are many alternatives that have been developed so we really need to fully ban plastics.

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