According to the EPA, between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. These bags are used for an average of 12 minutes, but they remain in our landfills, oceans, parks and beaches for thousands of years. Both plastic and paper disposable bags are costly, environmentally damaging, and completely unnecessary. Problems with disposable bags include:
Wasting Natural Resources
It requires vast amounts of natural resources, water, and energy to manufacture and ship disposable bags. Plastic bags are made from fossil fuels, and it requires 2.2 billion pounds of fossil fuel and 3.9 billion gallons of fresh water to produce the 100 billion plastic bags the US consumes each year. The manufacturing of these bags produces a billion pounds of solid waste and 2.7 million tons of CO2 per year. Manufacturing and shipping paper bags require even more energy and water, and create more pollution, than plastic bags. In addition, producing the paper bags used in the U.S. each year requires 14 million trees.
Causing Localized Flooding
Plastic bags never fully break down, and often clog storm drains and damage infrastructure on their way to become ocean pollution. In 1998, plastic bag pollution in Bangledesh clogged storm drains and was the primary cause of severe floods that submerged 2/3 of the country.
Negatively Impacting on Wildlife and Waterways
The mass consumption of plastic products has created a plastic wasteland in our oceans. Globally, there is now more plastic in our oceans than plankton, with 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean. Marine and avian are choked and strangled by discarded bags, and are killed by consuming partially broken-down plastic pieces. This plastic pollution negatively impacts 267 species of marine life.
Increasing Costs to Consumers and Taxpayers
Though plastic and paper bags are given out for free at check-out counters, U.S. retailers spend $4 billion per year on disposable bags, and that cost is passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices. Once bags are consumed, they are also expensive to clean up and dispose of. For example, New York City spends $10 million disposing of plastic bags.
Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB)
In an effort to protect the environment and save money, individuals, businesses and municipalities have been making the switch to reusable bags. There is a global movement away from disposable bags, and through a combination of education and legislation, municipalities all over the world have made the permanent switch to environmentally friendly and cost-effective reusable bags. Laws that either ban or place a fee on disposal bags have proven effective at reducing disposable bag pollution and promoting reusable bag use. From China to Italy to Hawaii, successful disposable bag laws have set a global example for promoting BYOB behavior.
Local Disposable Bag Legislation
Locally, CCE has worked with municipalities in New York and Connecticut to educate the public on the importance of reusable bag use and to pass disposable bag legislation. Beginning with Long Island and Hudson Valley BYOB educational campaigns, CCE has worked with thousands of residents, hundreds of businesses, and dozens of municipalities to reduce disposable bag use and switch permanently to reusable bags as an alternative.
Several of these municipalities are now regional leaders in the fight against disposable bag pollution, and have successfully banned disposable plastic and non-recyclable paper bags in their villages, towns, and cities. Municipalities in NY and CT with disposable bag legislation:
- Town of Westport, CT
- Village of East Hampton, NY
- Village of Southampton, NY
- City of Rye, NY
- Village of Larchmont, NY
- Village of Mamaroneck, NY
Updated by bsmith 4/22//16