Since the plastic bag become popular in the 1970s, it has spread like a plague across many parts of the developing world. Present day estimates on annual global plastic bag consumption range from 500 billion to 1 trillion. Less than 1% of plastic bags are recycled. More than 100 million plastic bags go into local landfills each week. The USA uses 100 billion plastic bags and Canadians uses 10 billion plastic shopping bags per year reports the Canadian Green Party.
Plastic bags are clogging landfills, polluting soil, finding their way into water systems and damaging marine life. Biologists estimate more than 100,000 marine animals and birds die each year from ingesting plastic bags or getting caught in plastic and drowning.
When plastic bags are thrown into the landfill or water, they don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits — contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food chain when animals accidentally ingest plastic. In landfills, plastic bags take an estimated 1000 years to break down.
Plastic bags are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.
Tides are turning against the invasive plastic bag with a global movement to implement bans or taxes on plastic bag use. In some African countries a plastic bag costs roughly 10 cents, an incentive to carry reusable cloth bags or baskets. Rwanda and the Zanzibar Islands have both banned plastic bags. The European cities of London and Paris have instituted bans on plastic bags. Ireland has a plastic bag tax — the Plastax (CDN 22¢ per bag) — that is estimated to have reduced plastic bag usage by more than 90%. Shenzhen City in south China's Guangdong Province is considering eliminating free plastic shopping bags. Retailers violating the plastic bag ban will be fined between US$667-US$6,667 if they offer plastic bags or fail to supply environmentally friendly alternatives.
The North American cities of San Francisco, Tofino, and Leaf Rapids have banned unnecessary plastic bag use.
North America Lagging
Although they use more plastic bags than any other nation on earth, North America has been lagging behind the rest of the world in implementing plastic bag bans and taxes. The North American cities of San Francisco, Tofino, and Leaf Rapids have banned unnecessary plastic bag use. San Francisco was the first American city to institute a ban on plastic grocery bags. The American state of New Jersey was the first state in America to ban plastic bag use under a bill introduced in Assembly. Leaf Rapids, Manitoba was the first Canadian municipality to give plastic grocery bags the boot. Leaf Rapids’ shop owners who offer single use plastic bags can be fined CAN$1000 per day. In British Columbia, Tofino municipality voted to ban plastic shopping bags in 2007.
Within the next decade, single use plastic bags will be eliminated, but until plastic bags are obsolete, consider taking personal responsibility for reducing plastic bag consumption and refuse to use plastic bags.
Biodegradable: Some stores offer biodegradable alternatives to traditional plastic bags. Although this might seem like an acceptable solution, not all biodegradable bags are created equally. Many biodegradable bags are created from a form of biodegradable plastic that will break down into smaller and smaller pieces over time, resulting in minute plastic particles that will eventually leach into the water and soil.
Non-GMO Cornstarch Bags: Compostable bags made from non GMO-corn are also a popular alternative to the traditional plastic bag. However food security theorists are concerned about utilizing food crops and land to grown corn or other plant matter to be utilized in single use carrier bags. These bags do compost with less environmental impact than biodegradable plastic and traditional plastic carrier bags, but there are high environmental costs and consequences from their disposable use.
Refuse to Use: Until your municipality, city or country decides to adopt a ban, many environmentalists are adopting a Refuse to Use policy. This entails bringing your own reusable bags, knapsacks, baskets and boxes to stores. Tell all shop owners that you support a plastic bag ban.
Support A Ban: Contact your local government and tell them you support a ban on plastic bags. If enough people write/call in support of a ban, local governments will need to listen.
Bulk Food Options: Although many natural and health food stores are utilizing plastic alternatives for their carrier bags, the bulk food section is often still reliant on plastic bags. Consider asking your bulk food supplier to provide recycled content paper bags or allowing you to bring in your own reusable container.
Frietag Bags: Each year, Zurich-based designers Daniel and Markus Freitag, divert more than 200 tons of truck tarpaulins from the landfill. Instead they turn these unwanted items into Freitag Recycled Freewaybags. In tarps alone, more than 50 kms of truck tarps are recycled into bags each year (imagine a convoy of tarps that stretches from Zurich to Lucerne). Since the inception of Freitag Recycled Freewaybags in 1993, the company has quickly become an international cult sensation producing more than 150,000 products per year. There are more than 40 different bag models to choose from, ranging from travel bags to the man bag to computer carrying cases, but the messenger bag F13 Top Cat still remains the most popular bag: http://www.freitag.ch/
BYOB: Bring Your Own Bag: Not all reusable bags are created equally. BYOB offers ‘eco-chic reusable shopping bags’ in organic cotton: http://www.bringyourownbag.ca/
Reusablebags.com: The Reusable Bags’ websites offers a wide array of hip reusable bags to choose from, probably the largest selection in North America, with everything from reusable lunch bags to heavy-duty shopping bags. Materials range from organic cotton to bamboo to stainless steel. Reusablebags.com also works to raise awareness around plastic consumption and sustainable alternatives. They have a plastic bag environmental kit as well and their website has a nifty counter that shows how many plastic bags are consumed each year — more than 1 million per minute: http://www.reusablebags.com/