No pressure, but as we go about our daily lives, shopping groceries and throwing away trash bags like there’s no tomorrow, our oceans are facing a huge crisis. Plastic pollution has turned into one of the most alarming issues of the 21st century, with more than 8 million metric tons of the non-biodegradable material being thrown into the sea every year.

For some, litter-strewn beaches may seem like a faraway problem at the moment, but in the not so-distant future (see: 2050), experts claim that the ocean will be home to more plastic than fish. Is that a new normal you are willing to embrace? If not, there’s no better day to start caring for our oceans than July 3rd, a.k.a. International Bag-Free Day.

The Cat is Out of the (Plastic) Bag – The Need-to-Know;

While many still approach the issue with an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, things have reached a point where ignorance just doesn’t cut it anymore. The United States alone use more than 380 billion plastic bags each year, draining about 12 million barrels of oil to meet the growing demands of the industry. Meanwhile, nearly one trillion plastic bags are used annually on a worldwide basis, showing exactly how out of hand the situation is.
But, brace yourself because this gruesome story doesn’t end there. Despite the outlandish production numbers, only 5 percent of these plastic bags are recycled. That means that the rest end up in all the wrong places (think: landfills, roadsides, rivers, and oceans). Why’s that a problem?
For one, plastic bags don’t biodegrade easily, meaning they don’t break down naturally as time passes by. In fact, each of these go-to shopping bags takes about 10 to 20 years to decompose fully. Be that as it may, light exposure to natural elements can degrade these items enough to release toxic polymer particles, “infecting” the surrounding area.
That means that if a plastic bag stays in the ocean for too long, it will inevitably infest the nearby marine environment with petroleum-based polymers which will, later, infiltrate the organisms that live in it, whether that’s plankton or fish. Following the food chain logic, these toxic substances will eventually make their way into the higher levels of the pyramid, a.k.a. us.

But chemical pollution aside, plastic bags also pose a physical threat to the aquatic ecosystem. You see, many marine species such as seabirds and turtles, often mistake thrifting shopping bags for jellyfish. As a result, they end up ingesting the bags which -of course- block their digestive tracks, causing them to die of starvation. According to researchers from the University of Queensland, Australia, the green and leatherback turtles are the two species with the highest risk of choking on plastic debris.

And if you are wondering why public agencies don’t go ahead and clean this mess, well, the truth is that such procedures cost millions of dollars; a financial demand that even healthy-budget governments can’t keep up with.

And Just Like That, International Plastic Bag-Free Day Was “Born”

With all these freakish statistics in mind, it’s no wonder International Plastic Bag-Free Daycame to be. Celebrated on July 3rd, this global initiative highlights the need to phase out single-use plastic bags by raising awareness on their harmful side effects and introducing a variety of eco-friendly alternatives.

Paper Bags to the Rescue (Or Maybe Not?)

So, we get it; plastic bags are bad. So, why not move on to the next best thing, paper bags? Well, not so fast. According to research, producing one paper bag takes four times more energy than it does to manufacture a plastic bag. Besides that, millions of trees are cut down each year to make these bags, which means that less oxygen is produced and more carbon dioxide is left behind. What’s more, paper bags are made using a variety of chemicals which contribute further to water and air pollution. In fact, these bags are said to produce 50 times more pollutants than their plastic counterparts. Still a fan of the brown paper bag? PS: Take these findings with a grain of salt as US plastic bag manufacturers funded the study. Ergo, further research is always welcome.

Plastic Bags Are Out; Totes Are In

So, plastic AND paper bags are not exactly the best of options. But, how on earth will you carry your groceries back home? We got two words for you: Tote bags. Made with sustainable fabric such as canvas or cotton, these reusable shopping bags are the perfect way to minimize and -why not?- eliminate the use of plastic bags. Talk about a long-term investment that’ll save your wallet and the oceans!

Recycle and Break the Cycle

Another way to minimize your plastic bag footprint is to recycle. Note, though, that repurposing plastic bags is not the same as repurposing paper or glass. That’s because most plastic bags are made using an array of unique materials, including high-density polyethylene (#2 plastic or HDPE, for short) and low-density polyethylene (#4 plastic or LDPE). So, you should keep an eye for these hashtag symbols to be sure they are recyclable.
If these hashtags are nowhere to be found, hold on to the plastic bag for a bit longer, use it as much as possible, and dispose of it only when it’s no longer useful. Also, make sure to remove any receipts, food residues or stickers from inside the bags before throwing them in the respective bins.
Lastly, keep in mind that not all communities can afford the use of plastic-only curbside bins. So, track a nearby location or store that features such containers and dispose of all your plastic trash when you get there. Friendly tip: Avoid throwing plastic bags into paper or glass recycling bins because they tend to get snagged in conveyor belts and jam the machines. You see, these things were never friendly to anything, why stop now?

So, it’s official. Plastic bags are so 2017!

But, what will you do to keep the oceans free from plastic and a bit safer for the generations to come? Share your ideas and suggestions in the comment section down below!


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