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Top Facts about Recycling Plastic Bags and Other Environmental Issues You Should Know

Priscilla Greene |

With the holidays shopping frenzy approaching fast, we all need to pause and take stock of our real impact upon this rock we call “home.” We discussed environmental issues plenty of times before, but now, with the year 2018 approaching its end, we have to find the time for awareness in between two spending rounds. Today we will discuss top facts about recycling plastic bags – the absolute trademark of holiday shopping – while touching other environmental issues we should take with us in the upcoming year to give them the necessary attention.

Why are Plastic Bags Such a Huge Problem?

As we mentioned on a previous occasion when talking about the environmental impact of reusable grocery bags, in the U.S., the population uses around 400 billion plastic bags and wraps annually. The average spikes during the holidays, as you can easily imagine. In between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the American waste disposal increased by 25%, with a vast majority of this waste being plastic.

Also, we all have to allow some facts and pieces to information to sink in before we embark on our next grocery or gift-shopping spree. Here are some facts about recycling plastic bags and their use we should all know:

  • On a global level, humankind uses around 160,000 plastic bags every second. Every year, the world uses trillions of plastic bags, which, unfortunately, end up in landfills and in oceans in their vast majority;
  • To cover humanity’s need for plastic bags, manufacturers produce around 5 trillion plastic bags each year.
  • Americans use around 102 billion plastic bags each year.
  • Besides the fact that you can circle the Earth a few times if you put all these bags side by side, you need to understand that in the United States only 10% of all plastic bags end up in recycling plants. It is the good news, as a few years back, we managed to recycle only 1-3% of all the plastic bags we used;
  • One of the most critical issues with the production, consumption, and waste of plastic bags is that they consume resources. In some parts of the world, we make plastic bags from oil (which is not a renewable resource), in the U.S. we make a large part of plastic bags from natural gas (which we could use for other purposes) and other chemicals – no matter how we make them, they waste energy and money, while being toxic for the environment.

Harming Our Planet has to stop

Life in plastic is not fantastic – not for marine life, anyway. To date, humanity has a few unforgivable curses to atone for:

  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – unforgivable and almost impossible to believe that an intelligent species could allow such environmental catastrophe to occur. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch surpassed Texas in size twice and made mostly of plastic. If there is a reminder that we are not as smart and evolved as we like to believe, the floating landfill of garbage in the Pacific is the one.
  • The plastic we throw away every year and ending up in our seas and oceans can kill around 1,000,000 marine creatures. Moreover, we face some tragic perspectives as well: according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by 2050 we will less fish than plastic waste (if we do not do something soon). More alarmist researchers warn that by 2020, the amount of plastic in the oceans will increase ten times.
  • According to the International Coastal Cleanup, plastic bags the second most frequent type of waste found in coastal cleanup operations. Back in 2009, 1 in 10 waste products was a plastic bag. A decade later, we still have to solve the problem of overusing plastic bags.
  • A 2015 study from UC Santa Barbara warned us that our oceans receive about 8 million metric tons of plastic. If you ever saw a whale dying from ingesting too many plastic bags (it naturally mistakes for food) or a turtle entangled in plastic until it suffocates, such moments became the necessary wake-up calls we needed.

However, to avoid fearmongering and guilt trips, we have to praise the fantastic efforts we as a species also made to fix what we broke. In truth, the plastic bags problems of today seem more manageable, as more and more voices raise and more and more projects take off to help us gain a different perspective on plastic bags use and recycling.

Facts about Recycling Plastic Bags You did not know until Now

When we have to answer the problem of plastic bags use, we know what the best approach is: recycling. In truth, we do recycle more plastic bags and plastic items in general than we did a decade ago. Here are some things you need to contemplate to restore your faith:

  • Plastic bags recycling is a relatively new industry. While we know how to recycle plastic lids and caps and other plastic items, the recycling of flimsy plastic shopping bags took wings only a few years ago. The good news is that it is an increasing field.
  • More and more countries, corporations, and non-profit organizations support the ban on plastic bags’ use in supermarkets and stores. Many retailers are also implementing plastic bag recycling programs. In fact, according to the Society of Plastic Engineers, we now have more than 18,000 stores with individual bins throughout the U.S. that gather plastic bags, wraps, and film to recycle them. These store drop-off bins collect anything from groceries bags to bread, food storage, dry cleaning, shipping pillows and plastic wraps for beverage cases. In 2015, this system managed to recycle 1.2 billion pounds of bags and plastic wraps. An insignificant drop in the ocean, some say, but the system proved useful, and it inevitably
  • We have the technology to help us: now we use robots to sort plastic items at superhuman speeds, scanners recognizing logos and images on plastic pieces to sort them better, machines able to scrape off labels from bottles and lasers to identify different types of plastics and send each one to its specific recycling line.

The world makes, thus, essential steps into reducing the plastic pollution that threatens us.

Here are some facts and figures putting things in a more positive perspective:

  • In 2013, according to PlasticsEurope estimates, the world managed to recycle 7.7 million tons of plastics, including more than 3.5 million tons of post-industrial and post-consumer plastic waste originating in the U.S. By now, these numbers increased exponentially.
  • Data from this year are coming from the American Chemistry Council currently estimates that about 80% of American households have access to different plastic recycling programs.
  • As we said before, a growing number of businesses entertain the idea of biodegradable, compostable, or even edible packaging materials to replace plastic bags and wraps.

Recycling Plastic Bags versus Recycling Paper Bags

When we discuss top facts about recycling plastic bags, we have to remember that recycling is one of the three levels in waste prevention hierarchy: reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Reduction of the amount of plastic bags is one of the most visible and widespread projects on a global level. Reducing the amount of plastic bags means replacing them with other viable options. Contrary to popular belief, using plastic bags is a more eco-friendly option than paper ones.

It seems that plastic bags’ manufacturing requires 40% less energy paper bags’ production – according to the EPA.

Moreover, paper bag production seems to generate 70% more air pollution and 50% more air pollution in comparison to plastic bags.

Did you want facts about recycling plastic bags? Here is one: recycling plastic bags save 90% more energy than recycling paper bags.

While the debate is still hot when it comes to plastic bags versus paper bags, we have at least one type of carrier that covers all our environmental needs, and then some!

The Reusable Shopping Bag: The Answer to the Environmental Plastic Issue

Eco-friendly purses for everyday fashion and reusable “green” bags for all our shopping requirements come with very compelling selling points:

  • They are not likely to end up in oceans and landfills. People reuse their cotton/canvas shopping tote bags for years, then reuse them by giving them entirely new purposes;
  • It is true that you have to use a canvas shopping reusable tote bag for some 100-odd times to make it fully sustainable, but this is an easy task. Imagine how many times you go shopping and return with plastic bags from the supermarket on a monthly basis. Then imagine you would use a jumbo-size shopping bag and see where the calculations take you. We experimented with the idea and resulted that we could make a shopping tote bag utterly sustainable in a bit over a year – and we never put our hands on a plastic bag during that period.
  • If you use burlap shopping tote bags, you will do the environment a huge favor, as the cultivation of jute in and out of itself is a sustainability measure in some parts of the world.

We have discussed the importance of using canvas and cotton shopping bags instead of plastic bags before. While not lacking their limitations (food leakage is one of the most important ones), reusable shopping bags make your environmental efforts come true: you can reuse them, and they are biodegradable. In comparison to plastic bags, cotton, canvas, and jute bags do not take around 500 years to disintegrate, and they do not break down in micro-particles that are equally harmful to our planet. There is also another option to use biodegradable trash bags to even save your planet while taking the trash out.

What to Do about Plastic Bags Recycling

As we said before, we are fixing what we broke. The world is indeed changing for the better, and each of us can offer a helping hand. We can all do more than expect governments, NGOs, and corporations to take matters into their hands.

Let’s see some other brilliant facts about recycling plastic bags and the contribution we can offer the world to make it a healthier home for the next generations!

1. Buy Recycled Plastic Items

It is unrealistic to believe we could remove all plastic from our lives forever. What we can do, on the other hand, is to give recycled plastic a chance. Let’s face it: what is the point of recycling plastic bags and other plastic products if we do not use them?

Some major players in the eco-industry are currently taking the plastic out from the oceans and into their plants. Then, they recycle the plastic bags and bottles for instance and turn them into products we can use on a regular basis.

Some consumer product companies and their eco-mindful customers enjoy recycled-plastic products such as high-performing sports shoes, sunglasses, luggage, pots and kitchenware, fashion items, garden furniture, and more.

When you recycle your plastic bags and expect something to return to you, consider buying such recycled plastic items and enjoy your contribution to a better world!

2. Reuse Your Plastic Items in DIY Projects

Unfortunately, not all plastic bags and wraps are created equal. You cannot recycle – in a professional setting – heavily painted plastic bags, cling covers, pre-packaged frozen foods bags, and plastic sheets with an adhesive surface.

Nevertheless, you can repurpose them by turning them into personal DIY projects.

  • Cut long strings of plastic bags, braid them, and turn them into waterproof plastic colorful covers for your outdoor furniture;
  • Use a crochet needle to convert strips of hard plastic bags into flower pots;
  • Glue and plastic braid sheets and cut strips to make outdoor taps covers and insulation against cold temperatures in winter;
  • Use plastic bags to cover your car’s windshield; cover your wing-mirrors and windscreen wipers in plastic bags to save you time and effort with ice scraping every winter morning;
  • Make a clothes’ bag from multiple plastic bags to protect your coats and outfits from moths or humidity all year long;
  • Make rugs from plastic straps for outdoor spaces – and even for your bathroom;
  • Think about all your creative arts and crafts projects and turn plastic bags into flowers, pom-poms, Christmas decorations, and even wall art.

3. Teach Your Children to Think and Behave Eco-Friendly

Teaching sustainability at home is crucial for our children’s future. While we as adults make tremendous efforts to clean the world of plastic and reduce our environmental impact for our kids’ sake, it is equally essential to educate children into becoming more eco-friendly in their turn.

Besides explaining them the top facts about recycling plastic bags – and you can begin this holiday season while shopping – it is also vital for them to understand that everything we do has an impact upon our planet. Teach them about responsibility – this comes first. Then, introduce them to the principles of reusability, recycling, reducing waste, and keeping things simpler and safer for everyone.

If you do not know how and where to start, let’s remember together our guide on how to spend an eco-friendly Christmas this year. If you present it as a fun game to play in the family, your children will cheer you for your imagination. Next thing you know, they will teach you facts about recycling plastic bags, sorting plastic household items, and making all sorts of useful items out of recycled products. Just give them the chance to surprise you and improve their world!