Plastic is made to be durable, so it is a bit disconcerting to many that billions of plastic bags are discarded every year after just one use. You are probably wondering why more people do not just reuse those plastic bags. That is a good question, and it is one that many individuals and governments around the world are working feverishly to solve.
Since we all must do our part to take care of the environment, it is essential to know the many reasons why we should be reusing plastic bags as much as possible. When you read this post, you will discover ways to become more proactive in using plastic bags and how this can impact the world around you.
Why Is It Important to Reuse Plastic Bags?
Since so many plastic bags are used worldwide every year, as many of them as possible should be reused to keep them out of the planet’s landfills. These bags do not biodegrade, so keeping them in circulation as long as possible is important. Reusing them preserves the environment.
It is also important to reuse plastic bags from an energy perspective. The more bags that are reused, the fewer that have to be manufactured. Since the process to make a plastic bag requires a great deal of energy, the fewer we need to produce each year, the better. It is estimated that reusing one ton of plastic bags saves roughly 5,775 KW of energy per hour.
Reusing plastic bags also reduces overall oil consumption in the world. This is because plastic bags continue to be manufactured using derivatives from either natural gas or crude oil. The fewer bags produced, the less reliance we will have on fossil fuels to manufacture them.
Another important aspect of reusing plastic bags is that it encourages sustainability amongst the populace. When more people start to reuse plastic bags, they begin to become educated about the importance of creating less waste. This is particularly important when it comes to items that are not biodegradable, such as is the case with plastic bags.
14 Reasons to Reuse Plastic Bags
Now that we have established why it is important to reuse plastic bags, it is helpful to consider some of the many reasons to do so. There are quite a few of them, but we have assembled a list of the 14 most commonly cited reasons. These serve to highlight the importance of reusability campaigns in place around the world.
Plastic Bags Take Years to Decompose
It is astounding to consider how long it takes just one plastic bag to decompose. In some cases, it can be a thousand years before the bag breaks down completely. It depends somewhat on the environment in which the bag is discarded.
While plastic bags placed in a landfill tend to decompose much more quickly, it is not substantial enough to justify doing so on a massive scale. Every time a plastic bag is reused, one less bag is left out there in the environment, waiting hundreds or thousands of years just to decompose.
Plastic Bags Are Not Biodegrade
Another reason to reuse plastic bags is that they are not biodegradable. If you simply discard them after one use, they are not going to go anywhere in the foreseeable future. To make matters worse, plastic bags can be broken down through a process of photodegradation. This is extremely harmful to the environment.
Photodegradation is essentially a process by which something decomposes due to exposure to light. As it goes through the decomposition process, small toxic particles will end up remaining. So, while the bag might be gone, high levels of toxicity remain. This process can be avoided when plastic bags are continually reused until they can no longer be used.
Birds and Sea Animals Can Be Saved
Just about everyone alive today has seen the pictures of what a plastic bag can do to birds and certain sea animals. The animals become stuck in the bag and cannot escape. Millions of plastic bags end up in the oceans of the world, further complicating life for marine life.
It is estimated that more than one million birds in the world die every year because they end up trying to eat a plastic bag. Add to that 100,000 sea turtles and countless thousands of marine life, and it is easy to see why reusing plastic bags can be so effective at lowering these statistics over time.
Recycling Plastic Bags Costs More Than They Are Worth
Plastic bags have limited value, to begin with. If you just use it once and then recycle it, you are actually doing economic harm to the process. The cost of recycling a plastic bag in many areas of the world now exceeds the value of the bag in the first place. As a result, many recycling plants will simply send plastic bags that they receive to the landfill.
While recycling is a noble concept, it does not necessarily make economic sense in this case. Until the world stops producing plastic bags altogether, it is better to reuse them as much as possible before either discarding or attempting to recycle them.
Too Many Plastic Bags End Up in Landfills
A sad statistic to note is that only two percent of the plastic bags made today actually end up getting recycled. The vast majority of them end up getting discarded after only use and end up in the landfills. This means that they will stay there indefinitely, creating a problem with environmental pollution of an epic scale.
In addition, many of those same plastic bags never even make it to a landfill. Many of them end up in
These can also end up clogging sewer systems, drains, and various types of plumbing pipes. It is a constant problem that the world is facing that could be solved if the bags were reused and not discarded.
More than 100 Billion Plastic Bags Are Used Every Year in America Alone
If you just look at the United States, more than 100 billion bags are used every year. That equates to every person in the country using somewhere between 350 and 500 per year, or more than once a day. This is way too many. So many of those bags could be reused, cutting down substantially on the waste that occurs because they are discarded so quickly.
Plastic Bags Create Litter Because They Tend to Fly Away
Plastic bags weigh next to nothing. This is why they are so cost-effective to produce in mass and then transport to stores around the country. However, that same benefit turns into a disadvantage when it comes to throwing them away.
Plastic bags are so light that they tend to blow away even when you think you are doing the right thing by throwing them away. Remember that most of these bags will end up in landfills and not recycling plants. Once they get there, a tremendous number of them are blown away and end up in places that do more harm than good.
It Costs Millions of Dollars a Year to Clean up Plastic Bag Waste
There is also an economic reason to reuse plastic bags. It is estimated that the state of California alone spends in excess of $300 million a year cleaning up litter caused by discarded plastic bags. The more bags that we reuse as a society, the less that will be thrown away and forced to become a dire economic statistic.
Plastic Bags Make Up a Tenth of Coastal Pollution in America
While it is true that there are other sources of coastal pollution, plastic bag waste accounts for fully 10 percent of it. This means that if you take 100 pounds of debris that wash up on the shores of the countries’ oceans, roughly 10 pounds of it will be plastic bags. This is a horrible waste, and it only serves to compound the problem.
If everyone reused even 50 percent of the plastic bags that they have, that figure we just talked about would be cut in half. Every time society learns to reuse plastic bags in great numbers, that amount of waste washing up on our shorelines will decrease accordingly.
Plastic Bags That Are Thrown Away End Up Polluting Every Corner of the Earth
To this point, the reasons to reuse plastic bags have largely focused just on issues in the United States. The reality is that this is a problem that plagues the entire world. Even plastic bags that are discarded in America have found their way in far off places such as the Arctic Circle and the Falkland Islands. It is a problem that literally affects everyone in the world.
Plastic Bags Are Made from Non-Renewable Resources
Many people do not realize that plastic bags are made almost entirely from petroleum and natural gas based products. These are non-renewable resources. Once we use them all, we cannot get any more. The more bags that are manufactured, the higher gas prices will be. If we can reduce our reliance on new plastic bags, these same prices can come down.
To illustrate this problem, it is helpful to point out that roughly 12 million barrels of oil are required to produce the number of plastic bags that the United States orders each year. This is an astounding amount of oil to make something that is so harmful to the environment and could be reused more often than it currently is.
Paper Bags Are Not More Helpful to the Environment
Many people make the argument that we should be using paper bags instead of plastic bags. While this might be a noble suggestion, the reality is that 14 million trees a year are required just to make the paper bags that the United States uses every year. While paper bags can be easily recycled, the harm to the tree supply alone is simply not worth it in the end.
It should also be noted that paper bags actually weigh as much as ten times more than plastic bags. This increases transportation costs because of the amount of fuel that is required to get them from one place to another. Plastic bags are better in this regard, but only if a campaign advocating their reuse is in place and effective.
Save Money by Reusing Your Bags
Many stores and countries around the world have started to offer financial incentives if you reuse your bags. This is a way to reduce our reliance on bags that we use once and then throw away. This applies to plastic bags as well. If you bring your bags back to the store to use again, you will often receive money back on your bill.
Reusing Plastic Bags Adds Up to Big Government Savings
When plastic bags are thrown away, local governments have no choice but to do their best to clean up the mess. Unfortunately, this costs a lot of money that could be used elsewhere in society. Since this is an expense that many people do not even notice, it is one that eats up a substantial amount of the budget of many local governments.
Let us look at New York City as an example. If everyone in the city reused just half of the plastic bags that they receive every year, it would amount to a savings of more than $250,000. This is the direct result of cutting waste by more than five million pounds in one city alone. That is a great reason to start reusing plastic bags.
Now that you understand how important it is to reuse plastic bags, it would be helpful to take stock of your own personal routine. Determine what you could be doing better to reuse plastic bags in your own household. While we might not yet be at the point where we do away with plastic altogether, we can do things to make better use of that material.