Plastic bags vs. the rest

It's one of the most contentious issues in consumerism: how many resources do we use with plastic bags?

Katie Rosie Quant at Mother Jones has now tried to give us the lowdown from a Californian perspective.

In August 2014 California banned the disposable (as distinct from reusable) plastic bags.

Her findings:

  • Worldwide, consumers use an estimated 1 trillion plastic bags each year — nearly 2 million a minute. The use time of a typical bag is just 12 minutes.
  • According to the Australian government, a car could drive 36 feet with the amount of petroleum used to make a single plastic bag
  • Estimates of how long it takes for a bag to break up into tiny plastic pellets (an increasing danger to wildlife) range from 500 to 1,000 years. They never fully biodegrade.
  • But for a paper bag to be better in terms of global warming impact, you have to use it three times
  • A cotton bag must be used 131 times before its global warming impact is less than single-use plastic bags.
  • Ireland imposed a tax on plastic bags in 2002 and cut usage by an estimated 75-90%. Australia cut usage by two-thirds through charging. Some 40% made do without. But a California study found more customers (16% instead of 3%) used paper bags.

FYI: Marine captain and researcher Charles J. Moore of California writes in a New York Times op-ed on 24 August 2014: "We suspect that more animals are killed by vagrant plastic waste than by even climate change."


Mother Jones