Have you ever thought about the life span of a plastic bag? It doesn’t begin when your goods are loaded into it at the supermarket. It also doesn’t end when you put it in your trashcan at home. Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic bags each year. Where do they all end up?
The creation of plastic bags begins in an oil plant. They are made of crude oil that is heated to remarkably high temperatures. Once the oil reaches a certain temperature, it produces ethylene gas. Ethylene gas is converted to polyethylene which is then forced through teeny, tiny holes to create fine string. Producers then form the string into plastic bags and stamp it with a logo. Once the bags are loaded onto trucks and ready to ship, they are off to your local stores.
The next step in the cycle for a plastic bag is to be used by the consumer. Most consumers use plastic bags to carry purchased goods home. After the plastic bags are unloaded, they get thrown away. Did you know that the average length of time a person uses a plastic bag for is 12 minutes? Think about how long it takes you to get those bags home from the grocery store, unpacked, and in the trash. However, plastic bags do not disappear once they hit your trashcan.
Once plastic bags make it through your municipality’s trash system, they wind up in a landfill, or the ocean. It is estimated to take roughly 1,000 years for one plastic bag to disintegrate. As they decay, the polyethylene strings that the plastic bag began as release harmful toxins. This is damaging to the environment and to animals. The toxic chemicals that are released contaminate soil and water. Each year more than a million sea birds, and 100,000 land and sea animals are killed because of plastic bags.
You may be asking yourself, “Can’t I just recycle these?”. Most recycling facilities don’t
have the capacity to recycle plastic bags because they get tangled around the equipment. Additionally, it takes 85 times more energy to recycle a plastic bag than it does to create one! Reach out to your local recycling company to find out if they can take plastic bags. If not, there are places that will take your plastic bags. You can find them by going to Plastic Film Recycling and typing in your zip code. Remember, in order to properly recycle a plastic bag it must be free of any crumbs, receipts, stickers, and/or other contaminates.
It can be alarming to learn that one plastic bag can last over 1,000 years, rather than 12 minutes. You can make a difference just by opting for reusable bags when you get to the checkout at your grocery store. Oftentimes, stores like Target and ShopRite sell them for just one dollar. If reusable bags aren’t your thing, make an effort to drop off your plastic bags at one of the drop off facilities given on Plastic Film Recycling.
Written by Christa Fryling