Reusable bags help reduce toxic litter
by Brenda OReilly
Reusable bags reduce litter. This plastic bag was photographed on a roadway in Bay Village.
Many people are now bringing their reusable bags to the store. So, why is it so important?
Well for one thing, plastic bags litter the environment. It’s hard to leave the house and not see a plastic bag either sitting in a puddle on the roadway or blowing around. The cumulative effect of all of these plastic bags blowing around is significant source of pollution to our soil and waterways.
No one knows exactly how long it will take a plastic bag to break down, but we know that it can take many years and when it does break down, it is still toxic since the bag is made from petroleum.
Plastic degrades through photodegradation that requires sunlight. William Harris from HowStuffWorks.com describes it this way: “Of course, plastic buried in a landfill rarely sees the light of day [so plastic in landfills may take thousands of years to degrade]. But in the ocean, which is where a lot of discarded grocery bags, soft drink bottles and six-pack rings end up, plastic is bathed in as much light as water.
In 2009, researchers from Nihon University in Chiba, Japan, found that plastic in warm ocean water can degrade in as little as a year. This doesn’t sound so bad until you realize those small bits of plastic are toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer. These end up in the guts of animals or wash up on shorelines, where humans are most likely to come into direct contact with the toxins.”
Not surprisingly, the use of plastics has increased dramatically over the past 50 years. According to the EPA, plastics were less than 1 percent of what we discarded in the 1960s. Plastics are now approximately 13 percent of the waste that is discarded. The U.S. consumes about 380 billion plastic bags every year – only 11 percent of those plastic bags are recycled.
Support a more sustainable planet by bringing your own reusable bags. It requires some planning, but once it becomes part of your daily routine it is quite easy. First, make a personal commitment to stop using plastic bags. After you purchase your reusable bags, find a place to permanently store them in your car. That way you’ll never forget them when you go to the grocery store and you’ll have them if you decide to make a quick run into the drug store or pet shop.
You’ll find that reusable bags are actually easier to use – you can place more groceries into them and the long, sturdy handles make them easier to carry.