The Problem of Plastic Bags


Plastic bags are a true menace to our ecosystems and our waste diversion goals. Barely recyclable, almost all of the 400 plastic bags used per second in the state are discarded. Once discarded, they either enter our landfills or our marine ecosystem.

People think of plastic bags as being free. Instead, they actually cost taxpayers millions every year.

NRDC estimates that California cities spend about $11 per resident to keep litter from ending up in our oceans as marine pollution. For California, the overall cost to protect our waters from litter is roughly $428 million each year--with between 8% to 25% attributable to plastic bags alone according to clean up data from San Jose and Los Angeles County.

Based on this information, an estimated 34 million to 107 million dollars is spent each year to manage plastic bag litter in our state.

Additionally, Southern California cities have spent in excess of $1.7 billion in meeting Total Maximum Daily Loads for trashed in impaired waterways.

Moreover cities and recyclers spend exorbitant amounts of time and money removing plastic bags from their recyclables stream, where bags jam machinery and add to the manual labor costs of recycling. San Jose estimated an annual loss of $1 million each year due to plastic bag related repairs in their facilities. And in early 2013, it was reported that at least one recycling facility in Sacramento shut down six times a day to remove bags from their machines.

These bags also have a negative impact on our 40 billion dollar based ocean economy. 267 species have been scientifically documented to be adversely affected by plastic marine debris. Plastic bags are considered especially dangerous to sea turtles, who may mistake them for jellyfish, a main food source. Plastic bags that enter our marine environment eventually break down into small fragments.

Numerous recent international, national, state and local reports have called for the banning or drastic reduction of plastic bags due to their environmental damage. Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environmental Program, recently said "there is simply zero justification for manufacturing [plastic bags] any more, anywhere."

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