According to American Plastic Manufacturing, a pro-plastic bag source, the average per capita plastic bag use is 500 bags a year. They claim this amount is the equivalent of half a gallon of gas. Alone, this amount seems paltry. But imagine 500 plastic bags clogging ditches, clinging to tree branches, blowing through fields and sinking in lakes and rivers.
Enviro Girl did a little math and that per capita bag use means her family of five would then use 2,500 plastic bags a year. A city of 10,000 people would use 5,000,000 bags a year.
Like so many environmental issues, the problem has to do with the big picture numbers. Sure, a half gallon of gas per person per year seems negligible. Once you start multiplying bags by the number of Americans and then figuring out plastic bag use over a 10-year period, the amounts are staggering.
The plastic and petroleum industries are fighting bag bans across America. Their concern is that plastic bag bans are a gateway to banning other plastic products. They staved off a recently proposed ban in California by spreading fears of job losses by plastic bag manufacturers. But like the smoking bans of a decade ago, the bans are taking hold in municipalities and counties, creating a patchwork of places banning the use of plastic shopping bags.
The other argument Enviro Girl often hears against banning plastic shopping bags is “What will I use to line my wastebaskets? How will I dispose of Fido’s poop in the park? I reuse my plastic bags!” Enviro Girl’s rebuttal of this weak argument is simple: even without plastic shopping bags, you can still find plenty of plastic bags to reuse for other purposes–bread bags, bags from shipped packages, the bags from inside cereal boxes. She gave up plastic shopping bags years ago in favor of canvas bags and still has no shortage of plastic bags as a byproduct of ordering from Lands End or buying bread.
Most recently Oregon is considering a statewide ban, notably supported by the Northwest Grocers Association. Like the land and water pollution caused by those plastic bags, the bans are beginning to add up. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for a state or local legislature to make a law stopping you from using plastic bags. You can choose to reduce your 500 bags a year by switching to reusable shopping bags!