Students at the University of Connecticut are making a difference one issue at a time. Over this past year, the PIRG chapter volunteers got plastic bags banned from dining services. It’s all part of UConn PIRG’s zero waste campaign. Can we make a difference by decreasing plastic bag usage? These students, 2 of whom are my podcast guests this week and next, said yes. They researched the issue, offered education, got students and faculty to sign petitions and basically got the job done. I’m proud of them for their efforts, their enthusiasm and their willingness to create change, one that promotes sustainability and takes care of the earth for the future.

However, I wondered about the facts around our use of plastic bags today? So, I decided to look into the issue more deeply. It’s simply astounding. And I feel saddened to think we have waited so long to take action over a serious problem that has shown us the error of our ways so graphically. Why are we taking so long to make a difference for us and all species?

Let’s look at the UK: Anna Schavorion who writes in Forbes magazine:

England’s single-plastic bag use before 2015

“The use of plastic bags in England’s supermarkets was out of control in 2014. More than 7.6 billion carrier bags were handed out to customers that year and that figure had been on the rise for the previous four years.

England was the last country in the U.K. to introduce a charge for single-use plastic bags. Wales was the first to do so, in 2011, followed by Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014. All saw plastic bag use decrease by 70-80% year-on-year.”

That translates into a huge decrease in personal usage of plastic bags which means a huge decrease in production. Let’s look at more facts:

    1. Ireland alone reduced plastic bag consumption by 1 Billion bags between 2001 and 2011 by imposing a bag tax of $.37
    2. We use 1 trillion plastic bags worldwide, a product that consumes resources, contributions to species deaths, adds to pollution.
    3. The European Union is beginning to get behind promoting a decrease in plastic bags due to the great harm seen in our oceans and other waterways.
    4. Plastic baags contribute to malaria in Kenya.
    5. Camels and other animals such as cows and sheep die from plastic bag ingestion.
    6. 100,000 marine creatures a year die from plastic entanglement and these are the ones found. Approximately 1 million sea birds also die from plastic. A plastic bag can kill numerous animals because they take so long to disintegrate.”
    7. “There are 5 ocean gyres in the world where plastic gathers due to the current circulation. These gyres contain millions of pieces of plastic and our wildlife feed in these grounds.”
    8. According to National Geographic: 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the ocean every year from coastal regions. That’s the equivalent of five grocery bags of plastic trash sitting on every foot of coastline around the world. And 40% of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded.
    9. How does the US rate in recycling plastics? We recycle 9% compared to Europe at 30%. Here in the Us, we throw away 100 billion plastic bags annually. That’s about 307 bags per person.
    10. If a ton of plastic bottles is recycled, the energy that is saved is the same as the amount of energy used yearly by a two-person household.

What can we do? A lot. Simply stop using plastic bags, straws and be mindful of packaging. Got your bags in the car and forgot to bring them in? I do that too. But, one student reminded me to reverse bag: put all items into your cart, take to your car and bag them there.  When I only have one or two items I tell the cashier that “zero waste is coming. No thanks, I don’t need a bag.”

Got any great ideas for zero waste? Let me know. Thanks. Judith

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