Plastic bags are suffocating us
Time to change our shopping habits
March 27, 2007
The Plastic Bag Industry has waged an intensive public relations
campaign. They want to stop legislation that would eliminate the
plastic bag problem in San Francisco. They are clever, crafty,
and, of course, well-funded.
The truth is that plastic bags are a worldwide environmental
disaster. The second truth is, countries around the world are
successfully eliminating plastic bags from their shopping cultures.
Plastic bags are a lot worse than we ever could have imagined.
It's hard to believe they only arrived on the shopping scene about
25 years ago. Presently, between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic
bags are used worldwide every year according to Vincent Cobb,
founder of reusablebags.com.
The problem is so bad that Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries
on the planet, has banned their manufacture and distribution.
They discovered their sewers were blocked up by millions of plastic
bags that contributed to the enormous devastation caused by recent
In South Africa - once one of the most beautiful countries on
earth - plastic bags are referred to as the "national flower".
There are two floating islands of plastic bags in the Pacific
Ocean, each reported to be the size of Texas.
Ireland was so inundated with the plastic bag menace that in
2002 it imposed a bag fee of approximately 20 cents. Within three
years the Irish (with no consumer riots) have changed their shopping
habits and reduced plastic bag usage by a whopping 90%.
That's why the Plastic Bag industry is coming out with its PR
guns blazing. They have everything to lose. In Ireland, those
bag companies that could not adapt their business model to the
new reality, are no longer in business.
The problem with plastic bags is that the material is not bio-degradable.
It is photo-degradable, meaning it simply breaks up into smaller
and smaller parts of the same material. Because of its molecular
structure plastic bags made from petroleum derivatives cannot
be digested in landfills like products made from naturally occuring
Actually that's not completely true. Every species from plankton
to whale is mistaking plastic particulates for food, and eating
them. It's part of the ocean's food chain now. This means that
when we eat seafood, we are running the risk of ingesting photo-degraded
And if that weren't bad enough, the ocean plastic has been found
in a 2001 study in Japan to attract PCBs in enormous quantities.
So we're eating PCBs as well.
Beaches, even in the remotest places on earth, are found to have
measurable amounts of plastic particulate in the sand.
Sea turtles eat the plastic and die.
Sea birds get strangled by plastic bags.
Once pristine coral reefs off the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia
now are coated with black plastic bags, hanging in the once pristine
waters like dead fish until they settle on and strangle the ancient
San Francisco spends at least $8.5 million per year (17 cents
a bag) and probably much, much more on the disposal of plastic
bags. They foul the machinery at the waste disposal center; they
contaminate the recyclables, decreasing their value; they contaminate
our bay; they get stuck in our trees and our power lines.
They are the second leading cause of suffocation among babies.
The Bush administration, of course, will not help. They have
demonstrated an unimaginable disrespect for the world's environment.
But that does not mean that cities like San Francisco cannot defend
themselves from this ignorance.
Many movements in this country began in San Francisco. We can
start our own environmental movement that can repeat itself in
cities and towns all over the country. We can demonstrate to other
cities that they too can defy our federal government. That we,
like the Irish, can solve our own environmental problems in an
We can start with the seemingly innocuous plastic bag. We can
do what it takes to change our shopping habits, reduce our usage
by 90% within three years, save millions of dollars in the process
and take charge of our own environmental destiny.