The Plastic Bag Plague

An estimatedĀ 14 billion poundsĀ of trash, much of it plastic, is dumped in the world's oceans every year.
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ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. -- When we sacrifice conscience for convenience, the outcome is usually not good. In the case of single use plastic bags, the results have been disastrous.

Trillions of plastic bags are produced each year, and shoppers worldwide are using approximately five hundred billion bags a year.

After their very short useful lives, a large quantity end up in the environment, and they stay there for a very long time. It's estimated that it takes from five hundred to a thousand years for plastic to degrade.

"You can't go anywhere without seeing a plastic bag flying in the air, along the roadside, stuck in trees and bushes," says Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz." "And the sad part is these things last for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, and they'll be on the earth a lot longer than you and I are."

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%INLINE% The damage is not limited to landfills. The effect on wildlife is equally devastating. Annually , one million seabirds and a hundred thousand sea mammals are killed from plastics in the oceans.

"What we find with plastic bags is they often get confused with certain species as prey items, particularly when they get into the waterways, " explains Buffalo Zoo President and CEO Donna Fernandes. "So a lot of turtles will consume plastic bags thinking that they're Jelly Fish or other species that they normally eat.  Also, it can be a problem for entanglement, that they'll be floating in the waterways and birds can get entangled, marine mammals can get entangled, and eventually that can cause death."


Bans on plastic bags have been enacted in Europe, and have been very successful.

In Ireland alone, a 2002 ban reportedly led to a ninety five percent reduction in use. The United States has slowly been joining the club.
 

Brian Smith is Associate Executive Director of The Citizen's Campaign For The Environment.

"This is truly a global movement," he said. "It did start off in places like Ireland, Italy and even China, that successfully implemented bans and fees. Here in the United States, while we weren't first, we've seen success in several counties , and it's actually taken off quite a bit in the United States -- there's well over two hundred local governments that have enacted local laws to eliminate bags . The state of California just passed a ban and a fee."


Poloncarz tried to enact a ban earlier this year which was defeated by the county legislature. He says he won't rest on this and believes the public can help.

"We're going to continue to push this, because we know if the public speaks up, and the public let's the legislature know that this is something that they support, the legislators cannot ignore what the public says."

Fernandes agrees.

"You as an individual can make that small difference! Buy those canvas bags, put them in your car every time you go shopping, or go pick up Chinese food, bring one of those bags, that makes a difference !"