Why are we still using plastic bags?

Sometimes when we stray from zero-waste practices, it isn't because of a superior idea, it's just because we are going with what is right in front of us.

I spent years going through checkout lines, piling my items into a dozen plastic bags, for no reason other than it is what I have always done.

Alexander Parkes invented plastic in 1862. Considering the timeline of life on Earth, that wasn't too long ago. But considering the significant damage that the production of plastic inflicts on our planet, we should have taken to alternative practices much sooner.

The production of plastic bags utilizes valuable natural resources; gas and oil. These resources are obtained through the fracking process which is known to pollute soil and water, endangering the surrounding communities. Fracking also emits methane into the air. The oil is then heated into plastic pellets where plastic sheets are blown into shape.

Photo by: NRDC

"“Plastics is among the most energy-intensive materials to produce,” according to the head of CIEL. Ethane cracking is energy intensive because of the high heat needed, and produces significant emissions, as do the chemical refining processes that make other plastics." (State of the Planet, Renee Cho).

The bottom line is that there is no part of the plastic production process that does anything good for our planet. And the demand for plastic production has only increased.

Photo by: Ocean Wise

"A plastic bag has an average life of 15 minutes. Annually, approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute" (Plastic Oceans).

The first plastic bag was made in 1965, fifty-five years ago. So any estimates on how long the decomposition process will take are only estimates. This isn’t a natural process like a banana you throw in your compost bin. Once discarded, plastic bags break down into micro-plastics where they endanger wildlife and leach toxins. This is a messy, unattractive, and harmful process.

NOAA Photo Library

So, why are we still using plastic bags?

Because we are choosing convenience in the present over our future wellbeing.

Plastic bags are not something that we need, not even as a luxury. Personally, I find reusable bags to be easier to shop with and more reliable. The handles never break, the bottoms don't fall through, and they can fit ten times the amount of groceries than a plastic bag from the store.

If you are looking to do something good for the planet, start here.

Invest in a reusable bag. Keep it in your car so that you always have it ready to go.

If you forget it, place your items straight from your cart into your car. It is tedious, but acts as a reminder to always shop prepared. If you allow yourself to use the store bags "one last time", that may never end and you won't be as effective in reducing your usage.

Every person that shops with reusable bags contributes to the cause. The less bags that stores go through, the less inventory they will need to order. Eventually, this will slow production and minimize micro-plastic pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases.

Happy healing the Earth!


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