I've already written about how much I HATE those flimsy plastic bags you get at the grocery store or wherever, and my efforts to avoid using them. But there's a piece today in Salon about how truly harmful and awful those plastic bags are. Entitled "Plastic bags are killing us," the article states
The plastic bag is an icon of convenience culture, by some estimates the single most ubiquitous consumer item on Earth, numbering in the trillions. They're made from petroleum or natural gas with all the attendant environmental impacts of harvesting fossil fuels. One recent study found that the inks and colorants used on some bags contain lead, a toxin. Every year, Americans throw away some 100 billion plastic bags after they've been used to transport a prescription home from the drugstore or a quart of milk from the grocery store. It's equivalent to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of oil.
Only 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled worldwide -- about 2 percent in the U.S. -- and the rest, when discarded, can persist for centuries. They can spend eternity in landfills, but that's not always the case. "They're so aerodynamic that even when they're properly disposed of in a trash can they can still blow away and become litter," says Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. It's as litter that plastic bags have the most baleful effect. And we're not talking about your everyday eyesore.
The article includes a video shot at a recycling plant, discussing how plastic bags screw up all other recycling efforts. They gum up the works and generally create a nuisance. They're really, really bad.
But there's hope--not that we'll get rid of the plastic bags that already exist; they're most likely going to last longer than the human race. But there's hope that we can stop producing, using and discarding so many of them. There's a Campaign Against the Plastic Bag and some countries are either banning the bags outright or creating a surcharge than encourages people to bring their own bags.
If you don't already shop this way, go get a couple of canvas bags and use them every time you shop.