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Plastic Bag Environmental Impact

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

We Know:

  • Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade – breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits.
  • A plastic bag can take between 400 to 1,000 years to break down in the environment.
  • As it breaks down, plastic particles contaminate soil and waterways and enter the food web when animals accidentally ingest them.
  • In the ocean, these particles eventually end up in massive whirlpool-like currents in the oceans called gyres. Our planet has five major gyres.
  • In some locations, there is 46 times more plastic than available food for marine animals.
  • Plastic bags cause over 100,000 sea turtle and other marine animal deaths every year.
  • Nearly 90% of the debris in our oceans is plastic.
  • Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.
  • Plastic debris accumulates persistent organic pollutants (POPs) like PCBs and DDT at high concentrations. Many of these pollutants are known endocrine disruptors.
  • When fish and other marine animals ingest plastic debris, they are also ingesting these toxins.
  • If the food we eat is contaminated with toxins, we will be too.

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

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