Sadly, Americans continue to damage the environment in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. One of the more not-so-subtle ways is the fact that, according to The Washington Post, Americans have contributed more to global warming than any other country.
But while many Americans disagree about the extent (and existence) of global warming, some environmental issues are more difficult to deny. Case in point: the millions of plastic bags currently filling up landfills and polluting bodies of water.
Already, plastic bags have contributed to a severe decline in the health of vulnerable ecosystems and increased pollution levels at home and abroad.
That’s because a single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to completely degrade inside a landfill. Even then, these plastic items don’t actually biodegrade; rather, they photo-degrade, meaning they break down into small toxic pieces. When these microplastics leak into bodies of water, they end up causing even more damage in the earth’s oceans by resulting in dangerous bioaccumulation in the food chain.
And when you consider the sheer number of plastic bags used today, it’s easy to see why plastic pollution poses such a great threat. For instance, the Galleria Shopping Center in Houston, Texas is one of the most popular shopping establishments in the entire world, with 35 million visitors annually, but that’s just a single site. If all 35 million annual visitors took just one plastic bag, that’s 35 million bags sitting in landfills for the next 1,000 years.
Fortunately, there are non-profit groups that are doing all they can to reverse this global pollution epidemic. Certain volunteer groups and companies spend hours every day cleaning up landfills and teaching people how to properly dispose of various harmful items like plastic bags.
In addition to these programs, some shoppers are doing their part as well.
According to a report from 2011, but which still holds true today, roughly 86% of consumers will spend more money for a better experience. To inspire eco-conscious shoppers, many stores are now encouraging shoppers to use reusable green grocery bags to help prevent further landfill buildup.
However, as ABC News reports, although these reusable bags are a much better option than plastic bags, they need to be used at least 50 times in order for any environmental benefit to be gained.
“If you’re able to do that over a long time frame, then you’re going to have an environmental advantage,” said Associate Professor Dr. Karli Verghese of the School of Architecture and Design at RMIT.
Grocery stores are perhaps the main culprits in the increased buildup of plastic bags, but clothing stores at malls like the Galleria also play a major role.
“If you have a look at some of the plastic bags that are given out by fashion companies, they’re pretty thick plastics,” Dr. Verghese added. “There’s a lot of focus on the supermarket shopping bag but there’s lots of plastic bags that are given out at lots of other shops.”
Ultimately, to permanently reverse the harm done by plastics, shoppers will have to learn to break their addiction to single-serving shopping bags.