Time To Say Goodbye to the Disposable Plastic Shopping Bag Essay

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It seems hardly even controversial any more to assert that we must begin to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. Not just because the supply of fossil fuels is running low, but also because their use is becoming untenable in light of their environmental and ecological costs. Fuels such as petroleum and natural gas aren't just used to produce energy, they also compose a dizzying spectrum of plastic products that we use hundreds of times a day. Consider the disposable plastic shopping bag that has become emblematic of our consumer culture. By some calculations the bag is “the single most ubiquitous consumer item on Earth, numbering in the trillions” (Lapidos). Americans alone discard some one hundred billion bags annually after trips…show more content…
Plastic bags don't biodegrade, but they do fragment when exposed to sunlight, eventually breaking apart into microscopic granules (Lapidos). The problem is that on a molecular level they are not actually “breaking down,” they are just simply separating into very, very tiny pieces of plastic. By air and by water, as whole bags and fragments, vast amounts of plastic bags find their way into the ocean. Stories have abounded the last few years of huge eddies of plastic trash found floating in the oceans. In the Pacific, not far from Hawaii, there floats a plastic garbage zone twice the size of Britain (Kiernan). Bags that are still whole are often mistaken by marine animals for jellyfish or squid and consumed. Some estimates of marine animal death from plastic entanglement and plastic consumption are as high as 100,000 per year (Kiernan). But even more pernicious is the plastic that breaks down into tiny, tiny, granules. These particles become filtered and ingested by all sorts of sea life that survives on plankton. In the plastic zone in the Pacific mentioned above, the seawater is “filled with six times as much plastic as plankton. This plastic-plankton soup is entering the food chain and heading for our dinner plates” (Kiernan). Because these molecules of plastic don't break down for centuries, once they enter the food chain, they continue to be passed from animal to animal, up the chain.

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