Single-use plastic and paper bags

Bag in tree- Route 295 S small

Bag in tree along Route 295-South

The average person consumes 630 single-use bags and 13 paper bags each year.

Plastic Bags in the Environment

The typical plastic bag is used for only 12 minutes yet lasts pretty much forever.  Plastic bags, like other plastics, do not biodegrade, they only “photodegrade” in sunlight, breaking slowly into microscopic bits– a process that experts estimate will take thousands of years.

Meanwhile, the environment is paying the price:

  • Over 46,000 pieces of mainly plastic litter are now estimated to be floating on every square mile of ocean
  • In total, there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean, amounting to 269,000 tons
  • Plastic particles form with other debris into 5 large swirling “garbage patches.” Between 60 – 95% of the debris is plastic
  • Plastic bags cause more than 100,000 sea turtle and other marine animal deaths every year when animals mistake them for food
  • Wildlife entanglements in bags are 3rd most common problem (after fishing lines and nets)
  • Micro-plastics work their way up the food chain and on to our dinner plates, with potentially adverse health consequences
  • Plastic bags have become a fixture in trees, landfills, roadsides, oceans and back yards
  • Less than 12% of all plastic bags get recycled!

Paper Bags in the Environment

Paper bags have the advantage of being biodegradable and recyclable, however they use take more energy and water to produce.  They also take more energy to ship to stores because of their greater weight.  Specifically,

  • Manufacturing of paper bags consumes 4 times the energy and 3 times the water of plastic bags; in addition 70% more air pollution and 50 times more water pollutants are created.
  • Fully 6 plastic bags can be shipped for every 1 paper bag

The Best Solution

Reusable cloth bags are the best environmental solution.  They  are designed to be used up to hundreds of times.  Assuming the bags are reused at least a few times, they have significantly lower environmental impacts, on a per use basis, than single-use bags.  When used again and again, reusable bags actually cost less per use than either plastic or paper single-use bags AND they reduce litter, saving communities thousands of dollars in clean-up costs.

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