Green Living

How Big Is the Plastic Grocery Bag Problem

How Big Is the Plastic Grocery Bag Problem

Plastic Shopping Bags

The choices to cart your groceries from the store are paper bags, a reusable bag, and of course plastic bags. The winner with the smallest environmental impact is the plastic bag. If you stop with that as your choice we have a problem, we have a big plastic grocery bag problem.

Four out of five grocery bags used in the U.S. are plastic bags; shockingly this amounts to over 100 billion bags per year.  Producing these bags requires more than 12 million barrels of oil; this is enough to fill up 34 million gas tanks.  Adding to this problem is that each year over 4 billion discarded plastic shopping bags end up as litter somewhere in our environment, this is enough to circle the world 63 times if they were tied end-to-end.  Although plastic bags can be recycled and reused, studies show that only 1-3% of plastic bags are actually recycled.

Industry advocates will argue that the plastic shopping bag accounts for only 1 to 2 percent of the environmental waste problem. Ninety percent is accounted for by the products you buy, and that’s where efforts should be focused. This is true, but what it also points out is that on each shopping trip to the grocery story you have a huge opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint. The bag and resources it takes to produce it is the easiest place for each of us to start and how it is handled as waste has far reaching affects. We now see floating plastic bag debris as far north as Spitsbergen 78° North [latitude] and as far south as the Falklands 51° South [latitude].


  • Reduce the number of bags you use, don’t double and triple bag.
  • Recycle the plastic bags.  Every major chain has a program and a drop off box
  • You can use reusable bags; you do need to research the materials that are used in these, because it varies greatly.  It should be emphasized that the plastic bag does have the smallest environmental footprint.  If you prefer reusable bag you will have to get over 150 uses to compensate for the materials that go in to them (defending on how they are manufactured and materials used).

Additional Information Plastic bags are killing us

New York Times: Should Plastic Bags Be Banned

University of Oregon: Paper or Plastic? The Answer Might Surprise You

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  1. Great post – and I totally agree with you! Let’s reduce the amount of plastic bags.
    Otto von Münchow recently posted..Go Light!My Profile

  2. I agree! Totally surprised we still have plastic bags, but we’ve started putting dangerous stuff in light bulbs that people don’t understand can’t be thrown out. Duh!

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