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Plastic bags are everywhere, what can we do?

2008 July 2

About the author: Tami Fordham joined EPA’s Seattle office in June 2001 and moved to Anchorage, Alaska to join the Alaska Operations Office in September 2003. Tami serves as the Alaska Resource Extraction Tribal Policy Advisor and is the Tribal Coordinator for Tribes in Western Alaska.

Tami standing in front of a small airplaneThe last time I was visiting with my family in Washington I learned that my parents decided to start making canvas shopping bags. They were noticing plastic bags everywhere littering the streets and hanging in the trees, you may have seen this in your local area, and so decided to start making the canvas bags to sell at their local store and to their friends. I have one of their bags and when people ask who made it, I get to proudly share their story of making a difference in the environment.

I have the great honor to work in partnership with Tribal Governments in Western Alaska along the Lower Kuskokwim River. Plastic bags are often seen throughout the tundra and so many of the communities I work with have worked to ban plastic bags in their village. The environmental programs have made canvas bags available to the tribal members in the place of plastic bags. There are many people that are now taking plastic bags and crocheting them into purses and bags that can be re-used. To find out more, check out this website. Just a few weeks ago a woman all the way from Florida called our office to find out about different re-use projects that could be done because she wanted to find projects that made a difference for the environment.

One person can make a difference, just imagine if we all made one change in how we live our lives the ripple effect it would have in our world.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

22 Responses leave one →
  1. Linda permalink
    July 2, 2008

    Good for you, and good for your parents, too! It seems like such a small step, but multiplied by the number of bags used in an average household each month, it can really add up. When I was in Germany in the late 80s, I noticed stores did not generally offer free bags for their customers; you were expected to provide your own. A few would sell you bags for a small fee, but they were very flimsy–it was much better to bring your own.

    I keep a variety of shopping bags in my car and TRY to remember to bring at least one in with me when I shop (success is limited so far, but I’m getting better). So far, my favorites are a pair of string bags–really just little balls of cotton mesh–that seem capable of expanding to an incredible size. They pack down to pocket size until needed and weigh almost nothing, so I don’t mind carrying them. Even when I forget to bring my own, I refuse to allow the cashier to bag items that are already contained–why hang on to a flimsy plastic bag when the milk is already in a perfecty good plastic jug with a better handle?

  2. Steve permalink
    July 2, 2008

    Every time I help out with a stream cleanup in my suburban area, and simply walking around neighborhoods and parks, I am saddened by all the plastic bags that have escaped into the environment. Unlike paper, they don’t decompose. We can all help by using re-usable bags, and when we see a newly escaped plastic bag out on the street, “snag the bag” and recycle or safely dispose of it.

  3. Karen permalink
    July 2, 2008

    I have canvas bags, but the hard part is remembering to put them back in my car after I unload them!

  4. greg costello permalink
    July 4, 2008

    In my kitchen there is a thick cardboard tube about 4″ in diameter and 36″ tall. I found it at a construction site and my wife decorated it with fabric. It stands at the end of the counter and we stuff the plastic bags into it. It will hold about a hundred bags or so at which time we push them out the other end into a bag and bring them back to the store !

  5. Steph permalink
    July 6, 2008

    I have been using canvas bags for several months now. Once I unload I either run them back out to my car or put them with my purse to take out whenever I leave next. I would love to see a much bigger push for bringing your own bags when you shop. Yes, it may be a bit of an inconvenience, but it’s worth it.

  6. Dennis permalink
    July 7, 2008

    Paper mills all across New England have closed and thousands of folks left without jobs. We still have the trees, we still have water but now we have plastic bags made from oil at $140+ per gallon blowing in the wind and lasting for eons in our landfills. Try to even find a paper bag, a renewable resource. There is something wrong with the country’s economic policies when these things happen.

  7. Renee permalink
    July 7, 2008

    I bring my own canvas bags with me when I grocery shop, however, I ususally have to supplement them with plastic bags when I get a lot of groceries. I then recycle the plastic bags with reuse. Whenever I shop I ask the cashier to bag my groceries heavy. There is no need to put such few items in one bag. I recently had a cashier at Walmart SuperCenter that gave me complete attitude about bagging them heavy. I will no longer be shopping at Walmart.

  8. Noha permalink
    July 8, 2008

    Great topic! Reducing our use of plastic bags is a simple step that each one of us can do now to reduce our ecological footprint. A few years ago a group friends and I organized a campaign aganist plastic bags in Egypt. While I can’t say for sure what impact we had in reducing plastic bag use, our effort received a lot of media attention at the time and hopefully has raised awareness of the issue. Here’s an article I wrote for our campaign:

    THE PLASTIC BAG: A CASE OF CONVENIENCE VS. SUSTAINABILITY?

    One of the staple items in modern daily life recently celebrated its 25th birthday. Since their introduction, trillions of plastic bags have been produced and consumed. Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are now consumed worldwide, an equivalent of over one million per minute!

    Try to remember the last time you bought something that wasn’t packaged in plastic or wrapped in a plastic bag. A few days ago, I went to buy a bottle of water, the salesman insisted that he place the water bottle in a plastic bag. I tried to insist that I really could carry the bottle without the help of a plastic bag. But resistance was futile. In his view, he was providing me the best, most courteous customer service by giving me a free plastic bag. But what are the real costs to society of the convenience that
    we get from “free” disposable plastic bags?

    Try to think of where all those tens of plastic bags that we accumulate on a daily basis go: they are either burned, spewing toxics into the air or dumped in landfills, where they stay for hundreds of years. The environmental impacts of plastic bags start with their production. Plastics production requires significant quantities of resources, primarily non-renewable fossil fuels, both as raw materials and to deliver energy for their production. The disposal of plastic bags also poses significant environmental hazards. Since plastic, which are made of low density
    polyethylene, are non-degradable and accumulate in landfills. If on the other hand, we try to get rid of them by burning, toxic fumes are produced. Recycling of plastic bags is usually not considered a viable option. It has been reported that only 1-3% of plastic bags end up getting recycled.
    Recycling of the plastic bags is not cost effective either. It takes about 120,000 plastic bags to make up one tonne. Additionally, recycling of plastic bags requires shredding and melting them; a process which if not properly controlled produces a lot of harmful emissions, including carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides and the carcinogenic dioxins. So, while recycling has it place, it falls far short of solving this issue.

    In short, there aren’t any sustainable ways of disposing of plastic bags and as a result, plastic bags can be found in landfills slowly contaminating the soil and water, stuck on trees, and floating in the ocean, suffocating wildlife wherever they go. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, birds and other animals die each year from swallowing plastic bags mistaken for food.

    So what is the solution? Choose reusable bags!
    While we cannot completely eliminate the use of plastic bags, we can surely reduce their use significantly. The use of high quality reusable bags made of fabric or heavy plastic has the potential to eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of single use disposable plastic bags over its lifetime. To be effective in our efforts, we need to work together with stores and manufacturers to find a solution that is beneficial to everyone. The public
    needs to be made aware of the real costs of a throw-away culture. The costs have direct impacts on our health and livelihood and we cannot afford to be oblivious and complacent any longer. So, next time you go to buy a simple item such as a bottle of water, take a stand and make sure you don’t end up taking that plastic bag!

  9. Dina Zulfikar permalink
    July 17, 2008

    Dear Noha
    I am much interested to meet you. We are currently holding awareness campaigns at Giza Zoo. General Awareness campaigns. We will use slogan NO FOR PLASTIC BAGS. We are a group of NGO’s, we made agreement with Zoo management to hold general awareness campaigns monthly at the zoo, 50 to 90 thousand visitors during week ends. We need to coordinte efforts, we are not able to find alternates to plastic bags to promote in Egypt.. please contact me at: 0123476670 or send email to:
    dina_zulfikar@yahoo.com

  10. Dina Zulfikar permalink
    July 29, 2008

    Noha, thank you very much for sharing your experience and expertise. We look forward to learn and benefit from your experience. Environmental Awareness Campaigns will continue in Giza Zoo monthly, we had signed a protocol with Zoo Management.
    Anyone is welcome to join us.
    Aniaml Welfare Awareness Campaigns continues successful awareness campaigns in coalition with AWAR, AW organizations and groups. Two events were held successfully on June 6th and July 25th 2008, next awareness campaign scheduled August 22. Come and make a difference.. we hold environmental awareness campaigns: cleanliness, vegetation, no to plastic bags, save Ibis bird, general knowledge, mercy.. our program includes: Q&A multiple choice for adults and chilren, story section, drawing competition for children.. and lots of prizes.. COCA COLA sponsored event by supplying COCA products, other presents to the winners are donated by members.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/27575762@N06/page3/
    for inquiries please send email to: dina_zulfikar@yahoo.com

  11. Dina Zulfikar permalink
    August 25, 2008

    Noha, you mentined you and your group made an awareness campaign to end use of plastic bags or raise awareness about the danger of using plastic bags several year ago.
    Do you think one awareness campaign several years ago would have an impact..
    Successful campaign usually last for years to achieve target, the campaigns, especially those aiming to change mentality and way people percieve customs and habits.. such campaigns should be held all year round, monthly I would suggest.
    You and your group are more than welcomed to join AWAR group.. together we can make such environmental campaigns more successful, but a campaign once in years.. sorry to say.. would not make difference..

  12. Judi Duncan permalink
    September 18, 2008

    Just hang them on the doorknob until you go back outside.

    Judi

  13. Dina permalink
    November 1, 2008

    Noha, finally I believe we, environmental animal rights groups are coordinating an event with independent environmental professors, we need to get in touch with you, it seems I lost your email, could you please get in touch again with me? dina_zulfikar@yahoo.com
    tel: 27370771
    mobile: 0123476670
    Cairo

  14. glenn welch permalink
    November 13, 2008

    We are in the begining stage of our campain to raise awareness of the terrible situation we are in because of plastic grocery bags. To get our young people and the rest of our community the dangers of this issue. A committee of students have suggested that we have a school wide contest. The contest will be the students making things out of plastic bags. To fund our project we collecting plastic drinking bottles for recycling. We just don’t know where to start. Any suggestions

  15. Marion permalink
    April 3, 2009

    Hi, I read, “In the community there are plastic bags everywhere”, dated 7/2nd/08. there it mentioned about crocheting and knitting with plastic bags and a website. The site did not open. Can you help. Thank You.

  16. kchick permalink
    April 3, 2009

    Please try the link in the post again. It has been fixed. Sorry about the mix-up.

  17. Shravan permalink
    August 7, 2009

    The Earth has been facing immense pollution from our garbage and consumption. The latest deadly pollution is plastic bags that fill up the landfills. With plastic bags becoming a growing concern, cotton bags have become the new way to help stop the pollution.

    With plastic bag pollution being a rising concern, many shoppers need to start using reusable cotton bags in order to stop the pollution.

    Plastic bag pollution is very deadly and takes hundreds of years to break down. Even if the component is broken done, the deadly chemicals will go into the ground and water system. By reducing the usage of plastic bag, Earth can recuperate. That’s why cotton bags should be used world wide to help reduce the pollution.

    It is our generation to stop the pollution and start using cotton bags as the solution. With global warming going out of hand from gas exhaustion, we don’t need any more problems especially plastic bags that are harmful when broken down naturally. These broken down elements cause sickness and destruction to the air, soil and water system.

    Use cotton canvas bags starting today as a way to stop the plastic pollution that is becoming a major threat to the environment. Our lives are threatened ever more from the growing usage of plastic bags. It is time you bring a canvas bag to shopping the next time you go to a supermarket.

  18. Ecotrendbags permalink
    August 31, 2009

    The Earth has been facing immense pollution from our garbage and consumption. The latest deadly pollution is plastic bags that fill up the landfills. With plastic bags becoming a growing concern, has become the new way to help stop the pollution.
    With plastic bag pollution being a rising concern, many shoppers need to start using in order to stop the pollution.
    Plastic bag pollution is very deadly and takes hundreds of years to break down. Even if the component is broken done, the deadly chemicals will go into the ground and water system. By reducing the usage of plastic bag, Earth can recuperate. That’s why cotton bags should be used world wide to help reduce the pollution.
    It is our generation to stop the pollution and start using cotton canvas bags as the solution. With global warming going out of hand from gas exhaustion, we don’t need any more problems especially plastic bags that are harmful when broken down naturally. These broken down elements cause sickness and destruction to the air, soil and water system.
    Use cotton canvas bags starting today as a way to stop the plastic pollution that is becoming a major threat to the environment. Our lives are threatened ever more from the growing usage of plastic bags. It is time you bring a canvas bag to shopping the next time you go to a supermarket.
    Please learn more at http://www.ecotrendbags.com/

  19. tea permalink
    July 1, 2010

    Thank you for sharing.I like

  20. Santino permalink
    September 23, 2010

    This is really a big problem. My concern is not only for the people but to all the living things around us. We are all affected by this, all of us will suffer the consequences from this. What we need now is realization that what we are doing kills everyone. STOP any kind of Pollution.

  21. buzzinga permalink
    February 5, 2012

    i eat plastic…..it tastes good!!

  22. Noor Ibrahim permalink
    November 26, 2013

    This message is for @noha.

    Do you have an email address I can contact you on. This is in relation to the article you wrote about plastic bag pollution.

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