Our world is obsessed with single-use plastic—plastic bags, microwavable meal containers, and plastic bottles are used daily by millions, without giving a thought to what happens to all that plastic. 100 million tons of plastic are manufactured every year for products that are used for less than five minutes. The United States alone generated 32 million tons of plastic in 2012, with only 9% recycled. That means 91% of that 32 million tons (or 64 billion pounds) sits in landfills and pollutes our earth and oceans, and that’s just what was generated by one country in one year.
Plastics don’t biodegrade no matter how long they sit; they photodegrade, which requires lots of light—which there isn’t any of when plastic is buried in landfills. Even if photodegradation is possible, like a stray bag floating in the ocean, it leeches harmful chemicals into the water, hurting marine life, and eventually reaching humans. Floating plastic islands the size of Texas are in our oceans, putting animals at risk and disturbing the ecosystem. Fish, birds, whales, turtles and hundreds more are at risk of plastic ingestion and entanglement. Plastic can often be mistaken for food, and when eaten, blocks the animals digestion.
How can we help solve this big and far-reaching problem? Make small life changes and spread the word to others about the severity of the plastic epidemic. A huge source of plastic overuse is using plastic grocery bags—the average American goes through 500 per year, and if everyone in the U.S. tied their annual consumption of plastic bags together in a giant chain, it would circle the Earth’s equator 776 times! Chico Bags has a great education tool to demonstrate just how much the average 500 bags a year is—The Bag Monster! Share this humorous and sobering creature to educate others about the plastic problem.
To help combat plastic overuse, simply start using reusable bags like the totes offered by Mixed Bag Designs. They hold a whopping 50 pounds, and are made out of recycled materials. Get in the habit of keeping multiple totes in your car, as forgetting to bring bags to the store is common when adjusting your lifestyle. The problem is big, but if everyone brought their own bag it would cut down plastic pollution tremendously. Over a lifetime, use of reusable bags by just one person (you!) will save over 22,000 plastic bags.