One million per minute
This is a column that appeared in the Observer in the spring of 2016. I’m re-running it because I think it’s an important message that needs to be communicated over and over.
One million per minute is how many plastic bags the world uses. It is estimated that worldwide use of plastic bags is between 500 billion and 1 trillion a year. Furthermore, it is estimated that Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags a year. The average American family brings home 1,500 plastic bags a year.
Not only are plastic bags a nuisance for the environment because they either sit in a landfill for hundreds of years or worse are blown around in our environment, ending up in trees and contaminating our waterways, but at least 12 million barrels of oil are used each year to manufacture those bags. Twelve million barrels of oil. A year. For something that is pretty much unnecessary.
Plastic bags were introduced to our society in 1977. Since then, these bags have become a crutch in our use-and-toss culture. We expect them everywhere we make purchases. More than 98 percent of them are thrown away and end up in a landfill after being used for 20 minutes.
Many counties and cities across the country are starting to pass plastic bag taxes, meaning for every plastic bag you need at a store you are charged for it, usually between $0.05 and $0.25. After Washington, D.C., enacted a plastic bag tax, they saw a 72 percent reduction in plastic bag litter cleaned up in the Potomac River! I wonder if Lake Erie would benefit the same.
What can you do today? Invest in reusable bags. Each reusable bag will save hundreds of plastic bags a year. Reusable bags are very easy to use, and are sold in most every grocery store. I’ve also seen them at Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx. I keep reusable grocery bags in my car, and I keep small nylon bags that fold into themselves in my purse (that I bought for $1 each at Ikea) for when I may purchase clothing or other spur of the moment items. If you’re at a drug store or grocery store, sometimes they try to put only one item in a plastic bag when you can easily just carry the item (or consolidate into fewer bags). Refuse those bags. Each time you do that, it helps! And please don’t switch to paper bags thinking they are better for the environment – they’re not.
I know many of you are wondering what you’ll use for walking the dog, but I’m sure you end up with plenty of plastic bags (from bread products, newspapers, etc.) that can be used for dog clean-up. Not to mention, I haven’t taken a plastic bag from a store in more than a year, but they still end up at my house! People use them to bring something over, or kids bring them from school, etc. There is no shortage of pet clean-up options here despite never getting plastic bags from the store.
What else can you do? Write to your County Councilmember, Nan Baker in Westlake and Bay Village. Let her know you are concerned about this issue. Maybe someday Cuyahoga County or even the entire state can institute a plastic/disposable bag tax. In the meantime, please bring your own! This is important, and yet another simple step you can take that makes a difference for the environment.