plastic bags

Where Do Plastic Bags Go?

By Shannon Bond

Each season has its unique traits. Some are good, some are not so good. This depends upon who you talk to of course. One of the benefits of winter is the view, which brings a barren type of beauty. There is no doubt that leaves and green landscapes are appealing, but as an outdoor enthusiast and trail junky (both on foot and on wheels), I can appreciate the outdoors in every variation. There is a lot to be said for increased visibility too. When the trees are bare, you can see the contour of the land and the flow of the trail.

Sadly, I can also see litter; particularly, plastic bags. When you are hiking down a trail it’s easy to reach down and pick that trash or stray bag up. The easy cleanup opportunity is lost when you are barreling down the highway on the way to work though. It is especially discouraging to see hordes of plastic bags clinging to the tops of trees. These bags have obviously been ejected from passing vehicles to be carried by the wind to their final resting place. I’m sure they are present all year, but the winter draws back the veil of leaves to reveal just how much wasted plastic we generate.

What happens to the rest of the plastic bags that don’t get stuck in our suburban forests? And, what can we do to mitigate our waste? For years I was under the impression that we could not recycle these plastic grocery haulers. I’ve reused them as trash bags, lunch bags and anything else I could think of, but ultimately that just prolongs their life before they end up in the landfill. Luckily, just like a lot of our modern day materials, these can be recycled. So plastic bags really end up in three places (like everything else really).

The landfill

In 2011, Americans produced around 250 million tons of waste, 32 million tons of that solid waste was plastic. That’s 4.4 pounds of waste per person per day! It’s up to you to help keep plastic bags and other waste out of landfills.  (http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/MSWcharacterization_508_053113_fs.pdf)

landfill

Recycled into other goods

There is hope because recycling and composting helped prevent 87 million tons of material from reaching the landfills that year. That gives us an average of about 1.53 pounds of recycled and composted waste out of our 4.4 pounds per person per day. About 11 percent of the recycled waste from the overall count was the category of plastics that include plastic bags. Unfortunately, only 8 percent of the total plastic waste generated was recycled in 2011. We can change this. There are more than 1,800 businesses in the U.S. that handle or reclaim post-consumer plastics. Put simply, bring your used plastic bags to the grocery store when you shop and drop them at the bag recycle bin. If your store doesn’t have a recycle service for plastic bags, ask the store manager why not or what the alternatives are. You can also find a curbside drop off. http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/plastics.htm.

Buy Recycled

Where does recycled plastic go? You handle it all the time and probably don’t realize it. Products include bottles, carpet, textiles, paper coating and even clothes.

In the trees (or anywhere else as litter)

Don’t let your bags end up here. It’s an eyesore for your community, dangerous for the animals in your environment and doesn’t contribute to the reduction of source materials needed for plastic manufacturing.

Plastic Bags

What’s the bottom line? Recycle your plastic bags, it’s easy. Why? It helps keep trash off the streets. It helps reduce the need for raw resources in manufacturing and it reduces the amount of waste that goes to the landfill; it even helps generate power. Did you know that you can save enough energy to power your laptop for 3.4 hours by recycling 10 plastic bags? You can find these fun facts and other great information here: http://www2.epa.gov/recycle.

 

Shannon Bond  is a multimedia production specialist with EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. He has served in a host of roles including military policeman, corrections officer, network operations specialist, photojournalist, broadcast specialist and public affairs superintendant.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

It’s Not Just About Litter

I’m Abby and I see plastic bags everywhere.

We can recycle them, but I don’t think that’s the solution to their environmental impact. As we pack our groceries, we need to think about the harm plastic bags have on our environment. Sure it may be hard not to use them, even I know this. It is a hard habit to break! But, I now know that these convenience items are devastating.  I saw a picture of a sea bird with a plastic bag around its neck. What kind of life could it have with a bag around its neck?

I hope my village has the choice to ban the bags and not be barred by the IL legislature’s bill SB3442, which recently passed, that allows towns, cities, and villages in Illinois to only recycle bags. That’s what my petition is about – having the choice to ban the bags. I want to teach even younger kids about the issues surrounding plastic bags and even have them pledge not to use plastic shopping bags.

My other message is that kids have power, too. A grass-roots effort can be a tool for kids who want to do the right thing. We have no other choice, as we don’t have money, political power or special interests backing us! My petition project to ban plastic bags is an example of what we kids can do. We can become our own coalition.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Abby vs. SB3442

In my last blog, I told you about my project to have plastic bags banned in my community because of the impact it has on nature and our health.  It was all going smoothly until I found out that the Illinois legislature had passed a bill that stated we couldn’t do that.

SB3442, an Illinois Senate bill barring any community from banning plastic bags, passed on June 1, 2012.  It’s a set of rules with a feel good compromise of recycling plastic bags. I was crushed with the realization that politics and money fueled what wasn’t necessarily best for the environment. Illinois wanted to make the plastic bag makers happy, the retailers happy and its citizens happy, thinking that recycling would be the solution. Recycling plastic bags is not the solution; I think it’s just a band-aid to the problem.

I had to find some way to stop this bill! Illinois Governor Pat Quinn had to hear me and I had to convince him to veto the bill. I learned I would be up against politicians, the Illinois Retailer Association and plastic bag makers.  Being 12 years old, I wasn’t sure how to navigate through this system or if anyone would listen.

The idea of an on-line petition was suggested to bring attention to the matter.  I also made a video and wrote a letter to a well-known social action platform website. They were impressed with my passion and helped with getting the word out to their base. Initially, I got quite a few signatures. I was hoping for about 5,000. Then it really took off!  Social media was a blessing to get my message out and talk to supporters. I was able to use Twitter, message on Facebook and e-mail. I was not alone.  I heard from a retail employee who was disgusted by the amount of bags she gives out on a daily basis. She had also been writing letters to our politicians. Soon, I had my first interview and then it snow balled into more.  I’ve met some amazing people because of this petition, who also think this bill is a bad idea and have been trying just as hard to ban the bag. This includes the Mayor of Champaign, Illinois, Environment Illinois, Alliance for the Great Lakes, and the Chicago Recycling Association. If it weren’t for this petition, they and I would not have had our voices heard, or the public’s voice for that matter. Once people knew that this was about political lobbying, we got even more support. The Governor has yet to make a decision, but hearing from folks around the country and coming together as a team might sway his decision.  Nonetheless, I’m grateful for all the support and amazed by the impact of my project on the democratic process.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Project Plastic

My name is Abby and I am a student in Grayslake, Illinois.   As a seventh grader, I am required to start a C.P., which stands for culminating project.   It is a two year project with a goal to better the world we live in, positively impact our environment and community and show all that we have learned in the nine years at an environmentally focused school.   I chose trying to get the Village of Grayslake to ban plastic shopping bags.   I wanted to do this because I love animals and I saw a picture of a sea bird with a plastic bag around its neck.   I also live within a mile of a landfill and saw that on windy days, the employees put up extra fencing to catch HUNDREDS of bags.   Soon, my school project led me to more information on the dangers of plastic bags, a better understanding of my government and a feel for what activism is about.

It started with research –like all projects do –and contacting other towns that have had similar bans.  I wrote a research paper, as well as letters to editors of local papers and politicians.   The environmental issue surrounding plastic bags is more complex than just littering and the harm they cause animals.   There’s a possibility that the chemicals used to make the bags damages our soil. One day I studied my local grocery store for two hours counting how many leave just one checkout lane.    There were 175 plastic bags used, some with only one item in them!

Finding out that many communities, states and countries were successfully banning the bags, I was excited.  I thought it would be easy to convince my village to ban bags with numbers, pictures and examples.   It would be an exciting project to convince the adults that we wanted to ban the bag!   I even contacted a video producer who made an awesome video called Plastic State of Mind.

Just as I was beginning to start, it suddenly became an issue about choice.  The Illinois legislature passed SB3442, a Senate bill that would bar any community from banning plastic bags, in June 2012.

I’m 12 years old and I can’t vote, so how do I fight bill SB3442?  How do I get people to listen?  My project just seemed to grow more difficult.  Stay tuned for what happens next.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Plastics – Still the Future?

(EPA Photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Adam Medoff

No, I don’t need a bag. Despite what cashiers think about my physique and general athletic capabilities, I swear I can carry my bagel and coffee the five blocks from the deli to my office. I don’t mean to put myself on the environmental pedestal (which happens to be located in an old growth Redwood tree and run by Rachel Carson and Julia “Butterfly” Hill…fyi). Plenty of non-eco-heroes decline plastic bags at checkouts every day. But should they even have the choice? In my hometown, San Francisco, we banned plastic bags back in 2007 and I cannot remember anyone complaining about our grave loss or reminiscing about the good ol’ days when plastic bags lined our landfills and beaches.

It’s fine, you say. Plastic bags are recyclable! Plus, even if they’re thrown out, they just go to a landfill. No big deal (though to be honest, if you are reading this blog and got the environmental pedestal joke, you probably don’t think it’s fine and at least think it’s a big-ish deal. But just play along for argument’s sake). Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case. Environmental issues constantly provide the most extraordinary examples of “ignorance is bliss,” and plastic bags are no exception. More

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Reusable Bags


By Kasia Broussalian

A woman shields her eyes from the sun while sitting on the front steps of Union Square Park in New York City on Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Her reusable cloth bag, though labeled with the insignia “Parsons,” represents a relatively new and touted eco-friendly, fashion accessory. Makers span the entire spectrum, from traditional markets such as Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and even Kmart, to luxury designers and trendy clothing stores, such as J. Crew and Rebecca Taylor. As an alternative to plastic bags, reusable cloth bags are promoted by many environmentalists as going a long way towards relieving bulging landfills and city dumps. While the reusable cloth bag first became popular as a means of carrying groceries, women lately have taken to sporting them in addition to their primary handbag as a means of storing separate shoes, gym clothes, books, and the like.

However, there is some concern in the industry that reusable cotton or canvas bags could actually be more environmentally harmful then their plastic counterparts. Do you think that they release more Co2 emissions then the now-shunned plastic bags during their production? It would be interesting to hear our readers’ view on the use and impact of plastic versus reusable bags. Please comment below.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Texas Teens Kick Plastic Bags to the Curb!

By Wendy Dew

Have you ever stood in line at the grocery store and counted how many folks are using reusable grocery bags instead of paper or plastic? I have noticed a significant increase in the amount of people using reusable bags over the past few years. Can you imagine a day when no one asks you paper or plastic? Some teens in Texas can!

The ECoppell Club has dedicated itself to helping the environment by offering free cloth bags to residents of Coppell, TX. The club began in September 2009 with the goal of eliminating plastic bags from the Coppell area. They started with Coppell with the hope of eventually replacing plastic bags in United States and even the world!

Doing their own leg work, ECoppell collected statistics of cloth bags vs. plastic bags.  They found that great majority of people in Coppell continue to use plastic bags while less than 10% use cloth bags.  The students compiled their statistics by standing outside three major food retailers making notes of people with cloth bags and people with plastic bags as they left the retailer.

ECoppell intends to reduce plastic bag usage by 8% initially.  To help achieve this goal, the members are distributing 5000 free cloth bags to the community. The club members went door-to-door and gave presentations at various activities to raise money to purchase the cloth bags.

ECoppell members have garnered support from the local community and businesses.  We can all help support teens who are making a difference. I have been using canvas grocery bags for years now, they are a lot easier to carry and never break. We can all make a difference by kicking plastic bags to the curb!

Find out more about reducing, reusing and recycling

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Paper or Plastic?

One day in my Global Environmental Issues class, a professor showed us a video on the floating island of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, commonly called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I never knew the trouble that the convenient plastic bag could cause. On that day I decided to make a change in my life to reduce my contribution to the garbage patch and my carbon footprint in general. I wanted to do something productive to make a difference. I decided to stop using plastic bags. It may be a small step but at least it’s a step in the right direction. By switching to reusable bags I became a little greener and much happier.

I bought my first bag on Earth Day 2007 and I haven’t looked back. Now I use that bag and the few others I have accumulated every time I buy groceries or take a trip to the mall. Being a very poor college student, I never need more than one or two reusable bags when I shop. Those few bags carry for me about the same amount approximately seven plastic bags would hold — not to mention they are foldable and fit into my purse that I carry everywhere.

Now, with my reusable bags, I am helping the planet and making my walk to the apartment with the groceries much easier. Let’s face it: Two bags are easier to manage than seven that have a tendency to rip and tear. Next time a cashier asks you; “Paper or plastic?” say, “Neither!” and pull out your reusable shopping bag instead.

About the Author: Ashley White is a current undergraduate student at Virginia Tech. She is interning with OCHPEE for the summer.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Paper, Plastic or Bring Your Own?

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division

On a recent Sunday morning, I went to a local clothing store to purchase a gift bag for a present that one of my kids was taking to a birthday party. I usually keep recyclable gift bags at home, but this day, I had none. Upon paying, I proceeded to put the rather small bag in my purse along with the receipt. The cashier told me that I needed to put the gift bag in a plastic bag because it was store policy not to let customers walk out of the store with unbagged merchandise. Baffled, I placed my purchase in the store bag, but not before telling her that in Europe and some other islands in the Caribbean, stores either tax their customers for their use or simply don’t provide them. Her reply was the same: store policy.

I remember as a child, going with my mother to the supermarket and packing our groceries in paper bags. These were later reused. I fondly recall tearing them at the seams and using the inside for drawing and making crafts. I also remember how brown paper bags gradually disappeared from our lives when plastic ones were introduced in 1977.

Each year plastic bags cause the death of hundreds of thousands of sea birds and marine animals that mistake them for food. Paper, if not recycled, can fill our landfills and contribute in the long run to climate change. Both, paper and plastic require a lot of energy and raw materials to be produced.

But old habits die hard and our local businesses and industries have been slow in adopting sustainable and green practices. Even though some sell reusable bags, when the time comes to pack their purchases, I only see a small number of people using them. Some non-profit and environmental organizations in the United States have proposed a tax on plastic bags to discourage their use. In 2007, the city of San Francisco, California passed a city ordinance to ban plastic bag use in supermarkets and pharmacies. In Ireland, and since 2002, citizens have been paying a tax to use plastic bags. In turn, their use has dropped by 90% and the government has raised money for recycling programs. As more cities and countries declare a ban on plastic bags, retailers and consumers need to be aware that there is more than paper or plastic. And that is Bring Your Own.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Papel, plástico o traiga la suya?

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Recientemente fui un domingo en la mañana a una tienda a comprar una bolsa para poner un regalo que mi hija menor llevaría a un cumpleaños. Usualmente tengo de estas bolsas recicladas para poner regalos en la casa, pero ese día descubrí que no quedaba ninguna. Una vez pagué tomé el recibo junto a la bolsa de regalo y los puse dentro de mi cartera. La cajera, contrariada, me indicó que no podía hacer esto ya que era política de la tienda no dejar salir a los clientes con mercancía en otra cosa que no fuese una bolsa de plástico. Sorprendida, puse mi compra en la bolsa que me brindó no sin antes proceder a indicarle que en Europa e inclusive en otras islas del Caribe los negocios imponen un impuesto a los clientes que utilizan bolsas de plástico o simplemente no las proveen. Su respuesta: política de la tienda.

Todavía recuerdo mis tiempos de niña en los cuales iba con mi mamá al supermercado y empacábamos nuestra compra en bolsas de papel. Éstas eran reusadas luego. De pequeña me gustaba cortarlas por las costuras y utilizar su exterior para dibujar y hacer manualidades. Pero un día estas bolsas color marrón desaparecieron de nuestras vidas y rutinas diarias cuando las bolsas plásticas aparecieron en 1977.

Cada año estas bolsas plásticas causan la muerte de cientos de miles de aves y animales marinos que las confunden con comida. [http://vidamarinapr.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html ] El papel, si no se recicla, puede llenar nuestros vertederos y contribuir a la larga al cambio climático. Tanto el papel como el plástico requieren mucha energía y materia prima para ser manufacturados.

Hay un dicho que dice que los hábitos viejos son terribles de cambiar y nuestras industrias y comercios locales han tardado en adoptar prácticas de sustentabilidad y amigables al medioambiente. Aunque algunos venden bolsas reutilizables para llevar la compra, es muy poca la gente que veo utilizándolas. A veces me siento diferente cuando indico en la tienda que mis compras van en bolso reusable. Algunos grupos sin fines de lucro y organizaciones ambientales en los Estados Unidos han propuesto un impuesto a las bolsas plásticas para desalentar su uso. En San Francisco, California, hay una ordenanza municipal desde el 2007 que prohíbe a las farmacias y supermercados utilizar estas bolsas. En Irlanda, y desde el 2002, los ciudadanos pagan un impuesto por utilizar las bolsas de plástico. Estos han logrado reducir su uso por un 90% y ha ayudado a sustentar económicamente programas de reciclaje. Mientras más ciudades y países prohíben su uso, más informados necesitan estar los consumidores sobre sus opciones que van más allá del papel y el plástico. Su mejor opción es traer la suya.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.