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Why You Should Shop with Recyclable Bags

The History of Plastic Bags
Hanging rack with clothes
Original Photo by Hannah Shively

Sten Gustaf Thulin, a Swedish engineer, invented the first plastic bag in 1960 for a packaging company called Celloplast. Initially, the demand for this product was low; now it has grown exponentially during the 21st century and developed into a serious economic and environmental issue. Our capitalist country is enveloped in a culture of consumerism. We’re always out and about shopping and eating without realizing how much damage we’re causing. On average, each American uses between 350 and 500 plastic bags per year. This creates an annual overall usage of 100 billion plastic bags nationwide. These numbers are astoundingly sad and easily avoidable.

What’s wrong with plastic?
Dolphin in ocean
Original photo by Hannah Shively

For starters, did you know that a plastic bag can take anywhere from 15-1,000 years to break down? They don’t biodegrade, meaning they’re never converted into a useful compound by other organisms. Since they’re so lightweight, they never seem to stay in landfills and instead fly around before settling in natural habits for millions of animals. Approximately 1,000,000 birds and 100,000 sea creatures die from ingesting plastic bags each year. Some animals get tangled up inside the handles, while others confuse plastic debris as an edible snack. Eventually, the plastic cuts off their digestive tract, causing them to starve to death

What about using paper instead?

We incorrectly assume that the use of paper bags is instantly better than using plastic. Don’t worry: I’ve been guilty of this, as well. The U.S. cuts down 14 million trees per year to make paper bags. These weigh almost ten times as much as plastic bags, which requires more fuel to ship them to manufacturers and stores. What’s worse is that only 20% of paper bags end up being recycled; the rest are thrown away with other trash. They create more than twice as much waste as plastic bags; therefore, they truly aren’t better for the environment.

What are the benefits of using recyclable bags?
Front of Hallmark store
Original photo by Hannah Shively

In addition to conserving energy and protecting wildlife, there remains a multitude of benefits to shopping with reusable bags:

· They’re money savers. Dozens of nations have either banned or taxed disposable bags. Ireland was the first in Europe to tax plastic. Since 2002, they have decreased overall plastic bag use by 90%. Some American retailers, especially in large cities such as Chicago, charge upwards 10 cents per plastic bag. At first glance this doesn’t sound costly, but if we use an average of 500 bags per year, this is $50 people can re-pocket. Several stores even offer discounts to customers who shop with reusable bags! 

· They’re incredibly durable. Whether they’re made out of cloth, polypropylene, or recycled plastic, it’s rare for their handles to rip or the bottom to give out. 

· They’re cute! Why not decrease your ecological footprint while being stylish? Several retailers like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Burlington, and Target sell adorable and humungous totes in their checkout line for only a dollar! 

· They’re versatile. Reusable bags can serve more purposes than just a plastic bag replacement at the grocery store. These come in handy as totes, lunch boxes, and beach bags just to name a few! They also help immensely when moving in and out of dorms and apartments.

In Conclusion
Original photo by Hannah Shively

Shopping responsibly with recyclable bags (along with boxes and other containers) is a small step that can cause a chain reaction. Keep a few in your car and in your home. Try your best to take them with you whenever you’re shopping, and share them with your friends. Creation rejoiced when us humans were locked up inside for months; let’s continue to take care of our planet now that we’re back outside. We all have the opportunity to de-clutter and refresh the environment.

Hannah Shively

Youngstown '22

Hannah Shively is a senior pursuing her bachelor's degree in instrumental music education from the Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University. She's very passionate about a lot of things: Jesus, music, coffee, fruit snacks, dogs, the cello, and being barefoot. She adores traveling, especially to the beach. You can often find her hanging out with friends, making music, eating delicious food, and going on new adventures.
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