Every year, around 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. 500,000,000,000. Five hundred followed by nine zeros. That's a lot of bags. So many that over one million bags are being used every minute and they're damaging our environment.
Big numbers can be daunting so let's put it another way. Every man, woman and child on our planet uses 83 plastic bags every year. That's one bag per person every four and half days. Of those 500 billion bags, 100 billion are consumed in the United States alone.
Plastic bags are difficult and costly to recycle and most end up on landfill sites where they take around 300 years to photodegrade. They break down into tiny toxic particles that contaminate the soil and waterways and enter the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them.
But the problems surrounding waste plastic bags starts long before they photodegrade. Our planet is becoming increasingly contaminated by our unnecessary use of plastic bags.
Big black bin liners, plastic carrier bags carrying advertising logos, clear sandwich bags and a variety of other forms are all polluting our environment. They're lightweight, handy and easily discarded. Too easily discarded.
While they were rarely found during the 60s and 70s, their usage has increased at an alarming rate since they became popular during the 80s. Just take a look around you. Plastic bags can be seen hanging from the branches of trees, flying in the air on windy days, settled amongst bushes and floating on rivers. They clog up gutters and drains causing water and sewage to overflow and become the breeding grounds of germs and bacteria that cause diseases.
Dangers to Sea Life
Plastic bags are now amongst the top 12 items of debris most often found along coastlines ranging from Spitzbergen in the north to the Falklands in the south.
Animals and sea creatures are hurt and killed every day by discarded plastic bags - a dead turtle with a plastic bag hanging from its mouth isn't a pleasant sight but mistaking plastic bags for food is commonplace amongst marine animals. Plastic clogs their intestines and leads to slow starvation. Others become entangled in plastic bags and drown.
Because plastic bags take hundreds of years to break down, every year our seas become 'home' to more and more bags that find their way there through our sewers and waterways. Every bag that's washed down a drain during rainfall ends up in the sea - every bag that's flushed down a toilet (many small bags are), ends up in the sea - every bag that's blown into a river will most likely end up in the sea.
Add to that the enormous amounts of energy that's used every year in order to manufacture these bags and it's no surprise that pressure is being put on governments to make changes and consumers to re-think their attitudes.