Don’t Recycle Plastic Bags. Avoid Them Altogether.

Environmentalists repeatedly plead with the public to “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” and many Americans make a concerted effort to recycle. The truth is recycling is not particularly effective. It is much easier to reduce consumption and repurpose old items than expend the energy to break down an item and transform it into something else. One area where it is remarkably easy to reduce and reuse rather than recycle is at the grocery store. Rather than reaching for the plastic or paper bag at the checkout counter, you should bring your own reusable bags on your next shopping trip.

Beach Plastic Litter

Beach Plastic Litter

According to World Watch Institute, Americans use over 100 billion plastic bags per year. Of these 100 billion bags, only five to 12 percent of plastic bags are recycled. The rest end up on the beaches, on the side of the road, or in landfills. These discarded plastic bags take over a thousand years to break down in nature, and while they are breaking down, they are releasing toxins into the environment.

Reusable plastic bags are an excellent way to reduce your dependency on plastic or even paper grocery bags. These environmentally friendly alternatives are commonly made from recycled materials using processes that have minimal impact on the environment. They come in a variety of colors, styles, and capacities and can be purchased right at the checkout counter. In fact, many stores are beginning to offer incentives to customers who carry reusable bags, but this is not out of the kindness of their hearts.

Retailers spend over 4 billion dollars a year on plastic bags. They have a stake in encouraging their customers to bring their own bags. These same retailers are also facing the possibility of a paying a tax for every plastic bag they distribute. In 2002, the government of Ireland imposed a $.15 per bag tax on plastic bags. Rather than pay the tax themselves, retailers passed it along to their customers. Miraculously, plastic bag consumption dropped by 90 percent in one year. Whether American retailers will pass the tax along to their customers or bear the cost themselves is debatable, but it is better to be ahead of the curve than behind.

Economic concerns aside, reusable bags are a great way to do your part to preserve the environment. You might save money on your grocery bill, but you will undoubtedly be doing your part to keep discarded plastic bags off the beaches, out of the forest, and out of the landfills.

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