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It's everywhere.  A trip to the grocery store reveals items packaged in plastic, which are put in a plastic shopping cart, possibly paid for with a plastic card and carried out in plastic bags.  The conveniences of plastic have made a positive impact on virtually every facet of our life.  Although plastics have had a remarkable impact it is increasingly obvious there is a price to be paid for their use.

Before you toss that plastic bag, the plastic ring from a 6-pack or the empty beverage bottle, stop and think.  You play an important role as a consumer and can make a big difference in whether or not you create a problem for the environment. 


The Impact of Plastic

Many plastics remain floating on the surface of our waterways, the place where many food sources lie making them attractive to species of marine life.

86% of ocean debris is plastic

Photo is from an American in the US Consulate in Lagos, Nigeria. He said there are no public landfills and no sewage treatment plants. All trash goes into the sea.


Plastic degrades due to solar radiation and oxidation into smaller and smaller pieces, all of which are still plastic polymers, eventually becoming individual molecules of plastic dust.

Photo courtesy


In 2004 English scientists reported on tiny, even microscopic plastic fragments that have worked their way down and are polluting deep ocean sediments and are now in the plankton, the very bottom of the food chain.  (Richard Thompson, Science magazine)









  Photos: Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Algalita Marine Research Foundation found some areas of the Pacific Ocean to have 6 times as much plastic debris as zooplankton.

Over 1,000,000 seabirds and marine mammals die each year from plastic ingestion of entanglement.


     Photo debris/ENG/facts.htm


Dolphins will eat pieces of plastic sheeting they mistake for jellyfish and other prey. Young ones can strangle on ingested plastic. Dolphins may also become entangled in recreational fishing line or plastic strapping, which can drown them, or wrap around and amputate their appendages.

Bottle caps and other plastic objects are visible inside the decomposed carcass of this Laysan albatross on Kure Atoll, which lies in a remote and virtually uninhabited region of the North Pacific. The bird probably mistook the plastics for food and ingested them while foraging for prey.

The pictures say it all:

Platypus with cut around neck from plastic bag























Life of a Plastic Shopping Bag:

  • Made of virgin resins (#2 or #4)
  • Does not biodegrade!
  • Health laws and business economics limit recycled content
  • Less than 1% are recycled
The number of disposable bags used in Calif. exceeds 14 billion annually.  A study (1997) showed 58% of Americans prefer paper to plastic, yet a report from Film and Bag Federation found that 4 out of 5 grocery bags used are plastic.  Almost no plastic grocery bags have any recycled content.  In contrast, paper bags typically have 25-40% or even 60% recovered paper fiber.
Californians use over 19 billion plastic grocery bags and merchandise bags each year, roughly 552 bags per person, generating 147,038 tons of unnecessary waste [i]—enough to stretch around the globe over 250 times.

Supermarkets push plastic bags – because they cost them a about half of what a paper bag costs (4 cents vs. 8 cents), and because they are so light they are cheaper to transport.  Grocery bags are at the top of their operating expenses so they have jumped at the chance to cut costs there and push use of plastic over paper.
Even bags recycled at the markets are often land-filled, and super-market collection represents the only real cycling of bags that is taking place.


Plastics manufacturers like to argue it takes less energy to make a plastic bag than a paper one.  The stats on this are confusing, as the  anti-plastics camp says it depends on how you calculate it.  Either way, the fact remains there is no closed loop on plastic bags, and whatever it is recycled into is an end product here for centuries.

According to Worldwatch institute's 2004 study, .6 percent of plastic bags in U.S. get recycled.
Plastic bags/family - we reached the 900 bags per household figure by dividing the total number of bags used in the US each year - 100 billion (EPA figure) by the number of US households, 111 million, according to the 2003 census.  Note he quotes the EPA for the 100 billion bags/year figure.


[i] Cascadia Consulting, December 2004. “California Statewide Waste Characterization Study.” No closed loop means that any recycled bags go into end-use products like lumber that are essentially here for eternity.



Do something fantastic.  Cut out the plastic.



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San Luis Obispo County IWMA

San Luis Obispo County
Integrated Waste Management Authority

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