Plastic bags and oil consumption
July 16, 2008
Plastic bags are made from oil: it takes about 430,000 gallons of oil to produce 100 million plastic bags, and the U.S. goes through 380 billion of them a year.
A statistics class at Indiana U did the math: more than 1.6 billion gallons of oil are used each year for plastic bags alone. The more we use plastic bags, the more we waste oil.
Compounding the problem is the fact that, not only do we make tons of plastic bags (and use lots of oil in the process) we only recycle 1 percent. One lousy percent. It’s pitiful.
But the plastic problem gets worse. Under perfect conditions a bag takes a thousand years to biodegrade, and in a landfill, plastic bags decompose even slower. If buried, they block the natural flow of oxygen and water through the soil. If burned, they release dangerous toxins and carcinogens into the air. The damage is even more severe when the bags end up in the ocean, where thousands of sea turtles and other marine life die each year after mistaking plastic bags for food.
Plastic bag litter has become such an environmental dilemma that Ireland, Taiwan, South Africa, Australia, and Bangladesh have heavily taxed plastic bags or banned their use outright. How’s it working for them? In 2001, Ireland consumed 1.2 billion plastic bags, or 316 per person. A plastic bag consumption tax, 37 cents per bag, introduced in 2002 reduced consumption by 90%! Approximately 18,000,000 liters of oil have been saved due to this reduced production. An outright ban in China is expected to save that country 37 million barrels of oil each year.
How’s the idea of reducing plastic bags and saving millions of barrels of oil working for us? In March 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the US to ban plastic bags in retail stores. Before the ban, San Francisco used 180 million plastic bags per year. The ban cut the city’s plastic bag use by five million each month. Other US cities are considering implementing a similar ban or tax but we have a long way to go. In the meantime, we can all make a difference by bringing a reusable bag or box along when we shop. It’s easy, effective and just may influence someone else to do the same.
Sources: http://reusablebags.com/, http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2007/11/10/sack_the_plastic_shopping_bag/, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/09/0902_030902_plasticbags_2.html, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-royte/why-the-bag-backlash_b_46200.html, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/print/us.html