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Learn More About the Issues of Plastic Bags

Questions & Answers About Plastic Bags

Where do plastic bags come from?

​​Plastic bags are from the same source as all plastic: hydrocarbons. Like everything else manufactured from this non-renewable resource, it has two major drawbacks: manufacturing emits considerable amounts of pollution, and the product is not biodegradable. In other words, it is difficult to produce, and nearly impossible to get rid of once produced.

Why would I buy reusable bags when plastic bags are free? 

​​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.

What happens to plastic bags in landfills? 

​​Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfills.

Are paper bags better then plastic bags?

Not necessarily. ​​It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag. 14 million trees are cut annually to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans alone. The plastic industry would have you believe that is why we should not ban plastic. The real solution: reusable bags.

What about recycling plastic bags? 

Less than 10% of plastic bags are recycled. Many bags collected for recycling never get recycled. A growing trend is to ship them to Third world countries like India and China which are rapidly becoming the dumping grounds for the Western world's glut of recyclables. Rather than being recycled they are cheaply incinerated under more lax environmental laws. It costs $4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32.

What can I do to make a difference? 

​​Pledge to help York reduce plastic bag waste by using reusable bags when you shop and recycling plastic packaging instead of adding it to the town's landfill. Start the habit of reducing your contribution to the plastic bag waste in your community. Send a link to our website to your friends and family so they can  learn more about the issue.

References:; ​; Additional sources cited directly in the text. 

According to the EPA, between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Americans alone throw away over 100 billion bags a year.

EPA Infographic on Municipal Waste
Source: US EPA
(Click image for full infographic on EPA site)

Every hour, approximately 200,000 plastic bags are added to landfills. Those bags may take up to 1,000 years to break down. For the plastic bags that become litter, rain washes them into bodies of water where they threaten the lives of avian and marine species that can die from consuming or choking on the bags. Plastic pollution travels through our local waterways, eventually reaching the global oceans. On average, 46,000 pieces of plastic are swirling in each square mile of our oceans.

The mass consumption of plastic products has created a plastic wasteland in our Ocean. Great ocean currents combined with large amount of non-biodegradable waste have resulted in two swirling vortexes—twice the size of Texas—full of plastic trash. These vortexes did not exist 50 years ago. [Hear more about the Pacific Vortexes on YouTube.]

The proliferation of plastic waste endangers fish and wildlife. A 2005 study found that almost 200 species of marine life are adversely affected by plastic bag pollution. Tens of thousands of whales, birds, seals, and turtles are killed annually from plastic bags.

Fish and wildlife mortalities are caused by: strangulation, restricted mobility, and disrupted digestion. Marine animals often mistake plastic bags for food, such as jellyfish. Once eaten, the bags cannot be processed and block the digestive system, making it very difficult for animals to get proper nutrition, and can lead to a slow and painful death from starvation or dehydration. To make matters worse, when the creature dies and decomposes, the plastic bags will be re-released into the environment.