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How many plastic bags do you think are being used every year in the United States? At last count, this number was approximately 100 billion! This means that the average American uses between 350 to 500 plastic bags a year. Even though some people may either recycle or reuse these plastic bags again, reusable bags are designed to be sturdier and have a longer lifespan.

How Plastic and Paper Bags Break Down

While it does depend on the environment, plastic and paper bags take approximately 15 to 1,000 years to biodegrade and/or photo-degrade. Estimates indicate that it can take plastic bags up to 1,000 years to break down when they’re in a landfill and not located in an environment that can potentially accelerate the process. This is because plastic bags don’t biodegrade like paper bags. Instead, they photo-degrade. Basically, this means that the bags break down into smaller pieces when exposed to light, which has proven to be toxic to the environment and wildlife.

With some exceptions, paper is usually created out of tree pulp. As a result, the traditional paper grocery bag has had a significant impact on this country’s forests. In 1999 alone, Americans used ten billion paper grocery bags. In order to produce those bags, 14 million trees had to be cut down.

Statistics on Plastic Bag Recycling

While many people do recycle their plastic bags, statistics reveal this only amounts to a very small percentage. According to statistics gathered for over ten years by the Environmental Protection Agency, only two percent of the overall number of plastic bags are actually recycled. The remainder ends up in landfills, the overall environment, and waterways.

The Effects of Plastic Bags on the World’s Oceans and Wildlife

When plastic bags photo-degrade and become small toxic pieces, these often find their way into the world’s oceans, rivers, and other waterways. Over ten percent of the debris that washes up along the United States coastline consists of plastic bags. Given this, they are a major source of pollution which causes bioaccumulation in the food chain.

Due to ingesting plastic, it has been estimated that a significant number of sea animals die every year. This includes approximately one million birds and100,000 turtles. The reason for this is because these and other animals believe the plastic particles and the floating bags are jellyfish, plankton, or another type of edible sea life.

The Benefits of Reusable Bags

When consumers purchase reusable bags, such as wine totes or insulated grocery bags, the average one is the equivalent of more than 700 disposable plastic bags. If just one person were to continue choosing reusable bags throughout their lives, this simple act would prevent over 22,000 plastic bags from being released into the environment.

Since quite a few stores now charge for bags, whether they can be used again or not, hanging onto these reusable bags saves money in the long run. You can keep a few of these reusable bags in your car for last-minute trips to the grocery store. They can also be used to contain other items that you tend to keep in your car, such as emergency snacks, water, paper towels, and more. Furthermore, if something spills inside one of these bags, you can easily hand wash and use them again.

When people visit their friends or family for dinner or another type of social gathering, many will bring a wine tote or two with bottles of red or white wine or both. Since these wine totes can be used again, guests can leave them behind rather than bringing them home. In this way, they are encouraging others within their social circle to reuse wine totes and other types of reusable bags.

Consumers that purchase reusable grocery bags are making a definite social statement about the importance of recycling. Every time you use these bags again or share them with family and friends, you are also making a positive contribution to the environment. The next time you reuse your bags, remember to make a post about this on your social media page. As you are well-aware, this is a great way to inspire others to make a difference, too.