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Plastic Bag Consumption Facts

Plastic products are everywhere. We use them every day in our homes, schools, offices, and during our travels in between places. Our modern world has become so dependent on the convenience of mass-produced, readily available plastic products — like disposable bags, bottles, and cups — that it’s surprising to consider that the world was once plastic-free.

In just a single generation (roughly from 1940 to the present), our overwhelming reliance on plastics has created environmental problems such as crowded landfills, groundwater contamination, and ocean debris that future generations will still be cleaning up.

Plastic Bag floats by a coral reef

In The United States

  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.
  • According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion).
  • Four out of five grocery bags in the U.S. are now plastic.
  • The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store.

Worldwide

  • A person uses a plastic carrier bag on average for only 12 minutes.
  • On average we only recycle one plastic bag in every 200 we use.
  • Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.
  • Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC, one group alone harvests 30,000 per month.
  • According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone “from being rare in the late 80s and early 90s to being almost everywhere.” Plastic bags have been found floating north of the Arctic Circle near Spitzbergen, and as far south as the Falkland Islands. Source: British Antarctic Survey
  • Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.

Sources: International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies or persons as cited.

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