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The plastic bag problem: Addressing America’s love-hate relationship with convenience

Updated: Mar 9, 2023

As of March 2023, a total of only 12 states in the US have implemented statewide bans on the sale of single-use plastic bags. As a reference, the National Conference of State Legislature created a map of states completely banning single-use plastic. These include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. In addition, hundreds of municipalities across the country have also implemented their own local bans or fees on single-use plastic bags. This still represents a tiny percentage of the entire nation adopting this practice. In addition, putting a fee on purchasing plastic bags in supermarkets is not going to lower plastic pollution either.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: 85% of the nation has not yet adopted these bans or is in the preparation stages of passing them. Our question is why is it taking the US so long to do this when the European Commission has successfully applied this across all member states back in 2021? Are there not enough alternatives out there, are we too forgetful to carry a bag with us each day when we go to work, or is it something else?

The US spends around $4 billion each year on single-use plastic bag production

According to a report by the Center for Biological Diversity, Americans use approximately 100 billion plastic bags per year for shopping alone. That is a lot of plastic being wasted!

The cost to produce 100 billion plastic bags each year is difficult to determine precisely, as it depends on a variety of factors such as the size and thickness of the bags, the cost of raw materials, and the cost of labor.

However, one estimate from a report written by the Earth Policy Institute, found that it would cost around $4 billion per year to produce 100 billion single-use plastic bags. To give you an idea of how much money that is. It is roughly the entire GDP of the Maldives!

Why are we even talking about banning single-use plastic bags

1. Single-use plastic bags cannot be recycled

Single-use plastic bags are difficult to recycle due to their thin and lightweight nature, which makes them prone to getting caught in recycling machinery and contaminating other recyclable materials. Additionally, plastic bags are often made from a type of plastic (polyethylene) that is not easily recyclable through traditional methods.

2. Single-use plastic bags contaminate our food and water

As plastics cannot fully dissolve or decompose they do break down into micro-particles called microplastic. These microplastics are tiny and easily get into our water supplies, contaminating the fish we eat and the water we drink along the way. The World Health Organization has suggested that microplastic ingestion may be linked to a range of health problems, including inflammation, immune system dysfunction, and even cancer. Microplastics can enter the body through ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact.

The effects of microplastics on human health are a subject of ongoing research, but information on the potential risks can be found in a variety of sources, including a 2021 report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) entitled "Risks for human health related to the presence of microplastics and nanoplastics in food."

Conclusion: Why it is crucial for the entire nation to entirely ban single-use plastic bags and not just partially

  • The US is the largest producer and consumer of plastic bags in the world so banning single-use plastic bags in the US alone would have a big impact on the environment.

  • Plastic bags are a major source of plastic pollution, which harms wildlife, damages ecosystems, and contributes to illnesses. By reducing our reliance on single-use plastic bags, we can help to reduce our overall plastic footprint and protect the environment for future generations.

  • Plastic bags take hundreds of years to decompose and release harmful chemicals and microplastics into the environment, leading to contamination of our drinking water and the food we eat

  • A nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags would help conserve resources and reduce our dependence on non-renewable sources of energy


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