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Plastic Pollution & The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

September 17, 2010
by

From ReUseIt

THE PROBLEM

  • According to a document published in 2008 by William T. Fujioka (CEO of L.A. County), an estimated 6 billion plastic bags are consumed–just in that county–each year.
  • Further in this document it is estimated that worldwide plastic bag consumption falls between 500 billion and 1 trillion bags annually. That breaks down to almost 1 million every minute.
  • The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store.
  • In good circumstances, high-density polyethylene will take more than 20 years to degrade. In less ideal circumstances (land fills or as general refuse), a bag will take more than 1,000 years to degrade.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency estimated 3,960,000 tons of plastic bags, sack and wraps were produced in 2008. Of those, 3,570,000 tons (90%) were discarded.
  • This is almost triple the amount discarded the first year plastic bag numbers were tracked (1,230,000 tons in 1980).
  • Estimates by the BBC and CNN claim that anywhere from .5% to 3% of all bags winds up recycled.
  • A U.N. study from 2006 stated that every square mile of the ocean has about 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it.
  • The same study also stated that 10% of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean. 70% of which finds its way to the ocean floor, where it will likely never degrade.

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  • According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually at an estimated cost to retailers of $4 billion.
  • The extremely slow decomposition rate of plastic bags leaves them to drift on the ocean for untold years. According to Algalita Marine Research Foundation, these plastic bags cause the death of many marine animals (fish, sea turtles, etc.), every year when animals mistake them for food.
  • In the statistical breakdown of a 2008 cleanup by the Ocean Conservancy, numbers were kept on 43 different types of refuse. Cigarette butts were the most common. Plastic bags came in second.
  • When plastics break down, they don’t biodegrade; they photodegrade. This means the materials break down to smaller fragments which readily soak up toxins. They then contaminate soil, waterways, and animals upon digestion.
  • Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up to harvest them. These are then woven and sold as hats and (more durable) bags.
  • Refuse plastic absorbs pre-existing organic pollutants, including Bisphenol A (BPA) and polychlorinated biphenyls(PCBs).
  • The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry has this to say about PCBs: “Animals that ate food containing large amounts of PCBs over short periods of time had mild liver damage and some died. Animals that ate smaller amounts of PCBs in food over several weeks or months developed various kinds of health effects, including anemia; acne-like skin conditions; and liver, stomach, and thyroid gland injuries.”
  • One study involving the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction and a National Toxicology Program (NTP) Expert Panel has reported on effects of BPA on development. They found cause for “some concern” related to behavioral, neural, and prostate function effects on mammals. On the NTP concern scale, “some concern” rates 3 out of 5.

The Majestic Plastic Bag – A Mockumentary

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Bag The Bag

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THE SOLUTION

  • The solution is not a plastic bag ban. This is an emotional response which fails to strike at the heart of the issue; instead of a market-based solution, a ban shifts production to paper bags and compostable bags, both of which have heavy environmental consequences.
  • The solution is not switching to paper bags or compostable plastic bags. A study on the life cycle of three types of disposable bags (single-use plastic, paper, and compostable plastic) showed that both compostable plastic and paper bags require more material per bag in the manufacturing process. This means “higher consumption of raw materials in the manufacture of the bags…[and] greater energy in bag manufacturing and greater fuel use in the transport of the finished product. …The added requirements of manufacturing energy and transport for the compostable and paper bag systems far exceed the raw material use in the standard plastic bag system.” (from a peer reviewed Boustead Consulting & Associates report)
  • reuseit supports a multi-pronged approach that discourages the distribution of plastic bags with a tax and a cultural shift away from use-and-toss plastic bags:
    • Plastic Tax: In 2001, Ireland implemented a plastic tax (or PlasTax); the first of its kind, this route acknowledges the fact that people will still occasionally use plastic bags. This market-based solution discourages daily, thoughtless use of plastic bags by charging a nominal fee per bag at checkout. In a study by the Irish Department of the Environment it was found that plastic bag usage had dropped 93.5%. This breaks down to a drop from 328 to 21 bags per person each year.
    • A cultural shift away from use-and-toss culture: Each reusable bag can eliminate hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic bags.

Your actions count! HERE are some ideas, tips and tools we’ve pulled together to help you change the status quo and reduce the mindless consumption of use-and-toss items. Our goal is to make it easy for you to take action and make an impact.



The True Cost of Single-Use Plastic Bags



CA Fails to Pass AB1998


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