Egregious Packaging Hall of Shame: Plastic Bags Truly Do Suck

by , 11/23/10

sustainable design, green design, packaging the future, plastic bags, packaging waste, green packaging, biodegradable packaging

Each year nearly 380 billion plastic bags are used in the US — any only 7 percent of them are recycled. The plastic scourge clogs waterways and takes hundreds of years to break down into smaller plastic bits (the bags don’t biodegrade). They also often makes their way into animals’ bodies: birds and fish especially like to eat the pieces, which often look like food. These pieces can choke them, block their digestive tracts, and the toxins used to make the plastic often get absorbed into their systems. But it’s not all about the animals; cleanup also costs taxpayers money. According to the LA Times via Wikipedia, “In San Francisco, it cost $8.5 million in 2004 to clean up plastic bag litter. According to the California State Assembly website, it would cost $25 million a year to clean up California’s plastic waste.” Read on for a look at the plastic bag problem and ways that we can fight the plastification of our environment!

sustainable design, green design, packaging the future, plastic bags, packaging waste, green packaging, biodegradable packagingPhoto © Ingrid Tayler

Plastic bags are, like most plastics (save those made from corn or sugarcane, which are a very small percentage of the current market), made from oil. According to the Sierra Club, It takes about 430,000 gallons of oil to produce 100 million plastic bags, and the U.S. goes through 380 billion of them a year. That’s quite a bit of oil wasted on something that most of us use for just minutes before throwing away.

Lead Photo © Kate Ter Haar

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  1. HeavyD in SC November 23, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    OK, if you’re like me, and you’re encountering resistance when you ask people to reconsider their use of plastic bags, then share the following video with those folks. Sometimes art can move minds more effectively than logic:

  2. tsotsi November 23, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Bio-degradable bin liners are available, although, here in the UK, they are only large enough for the recycled food bins our council have given us – very small and not large enough for even the smallest kitchen bin. The other drawback is that these bags are expensive

  3. ines p November 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    @Yuka Yoneda: I have exactly the same issue with reusable bags.

  4. Yuka Yoneda November 23, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Quick question about the bags – while I was living with my mom, I would always take reusable bags to the store and even scolded her a couple of times for not doing the same. Now that I live by myself, I actually started asking for plastic bags at the store since I actually need those bags to line my garbage cans (and I feel bad because I realized my mom was probably getting the bags to do the same – she has 3 cats so there is a LOT of trash to worry about). What do you think about my situation – is it okay to take the bags as long as I’m reusing them? Also, is there a greener way to line your garbage cans?

  5. Kestrel Jenkins November 23, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Great, concise outline of the realities that counter the criticisms! It’s another one of those “convenient” things — if we could only shift our everyday routines to include acts like throwing our reusable grocery bags into our work bags, so they are always on-hand in case of need.

  6. Andrew Michler November 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Hit that link on the second page about paper bags, its no free lunch for sure. We like those little packable Chico bags if I ever remember bringing one, if not then I alway chose plastic and recycle.

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