No Bag is Free

Photo by Kate Ter Haar/CC by 2.0


Article by Elizabeth Perle


Between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Americans use approximately one plastic bag each day for an average of 12 minutes, 100 billion of which are thrown away every year (4).

Plastic bags are not biodegradable and take hundreds of years to decompose.  They often clog drainage systems, damage infrastructure and become environmental hazards. There are 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean around the world (1).  These pieces negatively impact between 180 and 660 species of animals, including: birds, fish, turtles and marine mammals (3).

Disposable bags are a huge waste of natural resources.  It requires 2.2 billion pounds of fossil fuel and 3.9 billion gallons of fresh water to produce 100 billion plastic bags, and manufacturing emits 2.7 million tons of CO2 per year (1).

US retailers spend $4 billion on disposable bags every year, then offset these costs by increasing product prices (2). Disposal is also expensive. The New York City Department of Sanitation reported residents throw out approximately 10 billion single-use plastic bags each year, amounting to $12.5 million in costs.

To lessen these effects, countries around the world have begun to impose a tax on plastic bags use or ban it all together.  China’s plastic bag ban reduced usage by 66 percent and saved around 1.6 million tons of petroleum according to the Worldwatch Institute.

More than 150 cities within the US are enforcing bans or imposing fees on plastic bags to reduce  usage.  San Francisco’s Office of Economic Analysis anticipates plastic bag bans will have a positive impact on local economies, and save millions in cleanup costs.

Plastic bags are costly and damaging to the environment— a high price to pay for a convenient way to carry retail items.  Environmentalists continue to push for additional laws and restrictions on plastic bags, such as single-use bag fees and a requirement to produce paper bags with recycled material.

No disposable bag is free, and the cost of a plastic bag yields high environmental impact. Restricting the use of plastic disposable bags will reduce litter, solid waste, greenhouse gas emissions, our dependence on fossil fuels, and manufacturing and cleanup costs while protecting the environment and waterways.



  1. “The Crusade Against Plastic Bags.” N.p., n.d. Web.
  2. “The Economic Effect of Plastic Bag” Free-Market Public Policy. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.
  3. “Plastic Bag Bans: Analysis of Economic and Environmental Impacts.” N.p., n.d. Web.
  4. “Reducing Disposable Bag Pollution.” Reducing Disposable Bag Pollution – Citizens Campaign for the Environment. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.