Its frightening realisation when you hear that just 1 plastic bag can take between 15 and 1000 years to break down! How many plastic bags does your household use in just 1 week? Between shopping and rubbish disposal alone I would say that 10 plastic bags per week per household would be a very safe estimate. That’s a minimum of 520 bags per year for your average home. And the average family on recycles what equates to 15 bags per year.
Plastic bags are not able to decompose. They degrade over time through photo degradation which is the alteration of materials normally resulting from a combination of sunlight and air. Photo degradation does eventually degrade plastic, this is a very slow and inefficient process of an unnatural product. Unfortunately, plastic doesn’t break down completely but becomes minute pieces of plastic that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment further.
An estimated 80% of the ocean is polluted with plastic affecting the living conditions of around 276 different species affected by pollutions made up approximately 100 000 turtles, more than a million birds and a myriad of other sea creatures, are killed by the ingestion of plastic. And their natural environment is soiled by plastic waste. Once a plastic bag is ingested by the animal, it cannot be digested or passed which means that plastic item will remain inside the animal for the rest of its life. If an animal digests plastic, this prevents the animal digesting any food and will lead to a slow and painful death. An example of this was in 1998, a pelican was found dead in Kiama after eating 17 plastic bags!
The problem is that not only are plastic bogs convenient, cheap, useful, easy to obtain and costly to replace but so too is the cost of recycling plastic bags. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in the United States roughly 2% of plastic bags are recycle. The rest end in landfills where it can take 1000 years for the plastic to photodegrade further polluting water and soil with the toxins which they produce. And the cost of cleaning up the pollution caused by plastic is another additional cost which can be added to the long list of expensive repercussions of using plastic.
More than 10% of debris that is washed on the US coastline are plastic bags and according to the British Antarctic Survey bags have been found to travel as far as the Arctic Circle in the north and the Falkland Islands in the south.
And if you think that that isn’t far reaching enough, the production of plastic bags requires 12 million barrels of oil every year leaving a gargantuan hole in oil supplies which hugely affects the carbon footprint of each and every plastic bag.
Reusable bags offer a vast array of benefits to the environment aside from the practical and functional aspects of utilisation. The average reusable bag has a lifespan equal to roughly 700 one-time use plastic bags which equals more than the average use of plastic bags by 1 family for an entire year. Now isn’t that incentive to invest reusable shopping bags!