Hawaii is the first state to completely ban plastic bags from being distributed at grocery store check-outs. California attempted to pass a similar ban that's now being delayed, and at least 132 cities in 18 states have banned plastic shopping bags.
The U.S. is late to this party -- the whole EU, China, India, Australia, Rwanda, and many other countries have already instituted full-on bans on plastic bags. Plastics have a huge environmental cost, and this is one simple step we can take toward fixing it. Here are 9 reasons we should ban the bag:
Plastic bags last forever (literally), and we use SO MANY OF THEM
Approximately 100 billion plastic bags are thrown away in the U.S. every year, which is the equivalent of dumping almost 12 million barrels of oil into the environment. Globally, we use an estimated 1 trillion plastic bags every year -- nearly two bags per minute. The average "use-time" for a bag is 12 minutes, but plastic doesn't decompose. Like, ever. So after just 12 minutes of use, plastic bags continue to haunt us indefinitely.
Plastic bags kill marine life -- slowly and painfully
Annually, tens of thousands of seals, whales, birds, and turtles die because of plastic bags in the ocean. Lots of animals, including sea turtles, mistake the plastic bags for food because they resemble jellyfish.
One study found that one in three leatherback sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs -- and it's usually plastic bags. When a sea turtles swallows a plastic bag, its digestive track gets blocked, which causes the turtle to become buoyant so it can no longer dive for food. This causes thousands of sea turtles to slowly starve to death while floating on the surface of the ocean.
Even when you "recycle" plastic bags, they often still end up in landfills and oceans
Plastic bags jam and damage the sorting machines used at most recycling plants. As a result, unless you're taking your bags to a plastic bag-specific recycling facility, they're going to a landfill -- or into the ocean.
Even worse: There is almost no market for recycled plastic bags, and because of issues surrounding cleanliness, sorting and high costs, many bags sent to plastic bag recycling facilities still end up in landfills. Only 3% of plastic bags produced are ever actually ever recycled.
Producing plastic bags is also brutal on the environment
Plastic bags are making the Great Pacific Garbage Patch bigger by the minute
According to Ocean Conservancy, plastic bags are among the most common pieces of garbage found on beaches. And thanks to converging ocean currents, there's now a floating island of plastic garbage that's now two times bigger than Texas in the middle of the Pacific ocean.
Even scarier, ecologists recently discovered that about 70% of plastic in the ocean sinks to the bottom instead of floating, so there's even more (maybe a LOT more) than the massive amount of plastic we can see floating around in the ocean.
The plastics industry is sleazy as f*ck
Remember all those years the tobacco industry tried to convince us all by any means necessary that cigarettes aren't actually bad for your health? The plastics industry is up to similar tricks, making claims that that plastic bags are really just fine for the environment, and sponsoring ads that try to convince people to vote against bag bans in local elections.
They're even funding studies to try to convince us that reusable bags are bad for our health. Mother Jones reports that a "plastics-industry-backed study at the University of Arizona prompted fears after finding E. coli in 12 percent of tested reusable canvas grocery bags -- though the lead author of the report told NPR that the bacteria found would not make the average healthy person sick. The report also found that more than 99.9 percent of bag bacteria can be killed by machine or hand washing..."
Poisons from plastics is creeping up the food chain -- and starting to poison us
Although plastic bags never biodegrade, they do break down into smaller and smaller particles until they're tiny enough to enter the food chain -- tiny plastic particles now outnumber plankton 6 to 1. Eventually, that leads toxins from plastics up the food chain and back to us.
Inuit women have been found to have exceptionally high levels of toxins like PCB, a chemical compound used in plastic, in their breast milk -- because they eat more marine mammals from the top of the food chain than most of us. Non-Inuits aren't safe either: 93% of Americans over the age of six now test positive for BPA, a chemical found in plastics that is definitely not supposed to be found in humans.
Reusable tote bags are hella cute
Bans are incredibly effective at reducing plastic bag waste
Four years after China banned them, there were 40 billion fewer plastic bags put out into the world. It's estimated that a U.S. ban would mean 253 billion fewer bags in landfills (and oceans) every year. Plastic bags weren't even introduced to grocery stores until 1977, and they've already caused so much damage. It's time to get rid of them before they can do any more.