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, a big problem.
Four out of five grocery bags used in the US 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 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 impact. Ninety percent is accounted for by the products you buy. That’s where all the environmental impact is. 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 environmental impact. The bag and re resources it takes to produce it is the easiest place 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. Research the materials that are used in these. 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).
Solon.com Plastic bags are killing us
New York Times Should Plastic Bags Be Banned
University of Oregon White Paper or Plastic? The Answer Might Surprise You