Friday, June 19, 2009

Small Footprint Saturday: Plastic Bags

Through my friend What A Card and her new blog I found this other great blog dedicated to advice on how to reduce our carbon footprints. By no stretch of the imagination am I very "green" - I could do a lot more in my life to be more eco-friendly but I'm often lazy and ignorant. However, Reduce Footprints is educating me little by little. Also, they have made me a little less lazy by giving their readers a weekly challenge. And since I don't usually blog on weekends, I figured I could use Saturdays to quickly write about the challenge for the week. So here it goes:

This week's challenge is to go 7 days without using any (new) plastic bags. As a bonus challenge, you can write about plastic bags environmental impact on your blog. So far, I have been able to avoid plastic bags at the grocery store and elsewhere, although I had to put the wet carrots in my reusable bag and that was kinda weird. But a little water never killed anyone.

As for their environmental impact, I could do a bunch of research about bags, decomposition, recycling, yadda, yadda, yadda. But I figured I would give the consultant in me a chance to flex her atrophied muscles and do some back-of-the-envelope estimating.
  1. On average, I would estimate that the typical U.S. household goes the grocery once per week. Because that's what I do.

  2. At the grocery store, the average consumer buys enough stuff to "fill" approximately 10 plastic bags. Baggers tend to put very few things in each bag so this estimate might even by low.

  3. In addition to grocery stores, I estimate that the average American consumer goes to non-grocery stores three times per week.

  4. These non-grocery store trips result in an average of 5 bags, total.

  5. So, in a week, I estimate the average American household uses 15 NEW plastic bags.

  6. There are approximately 120 million households in America.

  7. 120,000,000 x 15 = 1,800,000,000 or 1.8 billion plastic bags per week.

  8. 1.8b x 52 weeks = 93 billion bags per year! Yowza.

OK, so that's just my quickie analysis of US household consumption of plastic bags. This doesn't include other uses/users or other countries. And I had to look it up for real and apparently the global annual consumption of these bags is 500 billion. So my estimate seems to be in the ball park since the US is probably one of the bigger offenders.

What this means is that if you, as the buyer-of-all-stuff-for-your-family, can make a serious impact. This is one of those things where households make up the majority of consumption, not some random businesses and industries. So, we are also the ones who have to curb that consumption if we hope to see a difference. And let's be honest. Giving up plastic bags is not like giving up long, hot showers or hours upon hours of TV. Do you really love plastic bags? I didn't think so. And that makes it pretty easy to just let them go. Give it a try this week and maybe it will become a regular habit for you, too.


  1. haha i dont get blog about not making life harder than it has to be...then this blog on avoiding plastic bags which, be honest, makes life so much easier than paper!

  2. We are plastic bag free in our house! I keep totes stored everywhere... my purse, both cars, in diaper bags. Recycling rates are abysmal for plastic bags... 1% or less. And the overwhelming majority come from the US.

    Oh and we always have plastic bags in the house bc whenever we have houseguests, they buy paper towels, napkins (we use rags and cloth napkins) and use plastic bags. It drives me crazy but I figure our impact is already so low.

  3. Want to see some scary, look up plastic bags in China. We've been to a few stores lately that don't use plastic bags at all now.

  4. We're plastic bag users. Of course, they come in REALLY handy when cleaning out the cat box. Or when you need to wrap up a *really* smelly diaper.

    So...we do recycle them...but we definitely add to the mass "kill the world" numbers. *sigh*

  5. Wonderful article. The numbers are staggering. Plastic bags, rather than biodegrade, break down into very small plastic bits. Our oceans are full of these plastic pellets ... in fact, it has been proven that there is not one section of any ocean anywhere which is plastic free. These pellets are eaten by marine life and end up in our food chain causing all kinds of health problems. It's a nasty substance.

    The biggest reason I hear for not giving up plastic bags is that they can be reused as garbage pail liners or doggie "pooper scoopers". One of my readers suggested eco-bags which are made out of corn or soy. They are a bit more expensive but ... extremely cheap when one considers the health affect (to the earth, animals, marine life and humans) of oil-based plastic bags.

    Thanks for sharing this information!

    Small Footprints


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.