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. 


12 Responses to “Plastic bags and oil consumption”

  1. bermudaonion Says:

    I use canvas bags and am noticing more and more people in my area doing it. On of our local grocery stores sells them for 99 cents and then gives you a 5 cent credit (per bag) whenever you use them.

  2. […] public links >> plasticbags Plastic bags and oil consumption Saved by alphabet on Sun 28-9-2008 Plastic Bags and Seattle Saved by emilyenjoys on Wed 17-9-2008 […]

  3. Judi Duncan Says:

    I have been searching for statistics on plastic and oil consumption and have found little except this website. What we need to do is get this information out there and to the legislators so somthing can be enacted to ban the use of plastic bags. Can you see asking either presidential candidate about their use of plastic bags or what their wives would carry to the grocery store? The question would be laughed at. Let’s get this information into the mainstream. Action needs to be taken and people don’t realize the impact.

    Judi Duncan

  4. […] are some interesting statistics floating around about the use of plastic bags.   First, they use up a bunch of oil annually to make them.  Second, they create a real litter problem, as so few are recycled.   Some […]

  5. connie glenn Says:

    plastic does not biodegrade, it photodegrades. that means that the sun breaks it down into smaller and smaller pieces, but they always remain plastic.

  6. Al Says:

    What is the percentage of oil used for plastics in the US? Is it as much as gasoline? How is the total production of oil divided between uses?

  7. […] oil is a high value commodity and plastic bags are a low value product. At the other extreme, is an unsourced study that found 1.6 billion gallons used (over 38 million barrels at 42 gallons per barrel) based on the […]

  8. Esiliato Says:

    1 Lt of petrol, 61 bags… how many liters have we wasted in our lives

  9. […] verge of approving a ban on plastic shopping bags, which has prompted a number of posts (here and here for example) on the subject of plastic bags.  Living in Europe has taught me that I can’t […]

  10. […] plastics demand — putting a nation-wide 25 cents cost to plastic bags at stores would essentially eliminate them and could cut demand by about two-days of US… use almost overnight. (No reason not to do this yourself … […]

  11. John Hofet Says:

    Good website!!!!!!!

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