According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization, Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which requires 12 million barrels of oil to make. In addition, the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year and, according to Waste Management Inc., only 1 percent of plastic bags are returned for recycling.
That means that the average family only recycles 15 bags a year; the rest end up in landfills as litter, according to the website. One of the most stunning statistics is that each bag is used for an average of just 12 minutes. Making something that’s only used once for 12 minutes could be considered insane when coupled with the fact that the bags don’t disintegrate for 500 years, after which they become microplastics that continue to pollute the environment, according to the organization’s website.
Oceancrusaders.org estimates that there are 5.25 million pieces of plastic debris in the oceans and that 100,000 sea creatures and 1 million sea birds a year die from entanglement or ingestion after mistaking them for food. That, too, is a high price for 12 minutes of use. Even if those estimates are cut down by 50 percent or more, the numbers are still staggering.
The U.S. is behind many other countries in addressing the problem. Denmark was the first nation to regulate the use of plastic bags in 1994 with a tax that reduced usage. All told, according to reuseit.com, 32 nations across the globe have bans in place, including, of all places, China, which is usually considered the world’s worst polluter.
Mexico has a partial ban and taxes in place, as does most of South America. On the continent of Africa, 14 nations have bans or taxes in place to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags. In the U.S. only three states — California, New York and Hawaii — ban the bags. But state Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, said Massachusetts could be next, thanks to a bill pending in the House Ways and Means Committee. “I think it will pass soon,” possibly in September, he said last week.
But if for some reason it does not, towns and cities across the state have taken action on their own to regulate the bags, whether through a ban or tax or some other measure.