Verda Vivo

Verda Vivo means “Green Life” in the universal language of Esperanto.

The Real Cost of Free Plastic Bags October 2, 2007

turtleWell over a billion single-use plastic bags are given out for free each day. But as the old adage says, nothing is free.

  • Production Costs
    The production of plastic bags requires petroleum and often natural gas, both non-renewable resources that increase our dependency on foreign suppliers.
  • Consumer Costs
    Annual cost to US retailers alone is estimated at $4 billion. Who do you think pays those costs? Yes, you, the consumer in the form of higher prices.
  • Disposal and Litter Costs
    In a landfill, plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to degrade. Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photo-degrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits polluting our soil, river, lakes and oceans.
  • Environmental Impact
    Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food. Turtles think the bags are jellyfish, their primary food source. On land, many cows, goats and other animals suffer a similar fate to marine life when they accidentally ingest plastic bags while foraging for food.

Consumption Facts

  • An estimated 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags are consumed world-wide every year.
  • In the U.S. alone, an estimated 12,000,000 barrels of oil are required to produce the 100 billion consumed annually.

Recycling can fix it, right?
Only 1 to 3% of plastic bags end up getting recycled. If it costs $4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32 (Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment as reported by Christian Science Monitor), it isn’t going to happen.

What to do?

  1. Use reusable shopping bags. My grocery store didn’t offer a reusable bag so I bought 3 at a competitor, keep them in the car and use them daily.
  2. Say ‘NO’ to plastic bags at the check-out if you only have a few items.
  3. Reuse plastic bags you have accumulated as garbage liners.
  4. Carry an Ultra Compact bag in your purse, backpack, car, etc. so one is always handy. I carry a Reisenthel – Mini Maxi Shopper Eden, Long Handle bag in my purse.
  5. Get stores to offer cash credits if you bring in your own bags or switch to a store that does. Mine happily offers $.05 credit for each bag you bring in of your own.
  6. Open your eyes to how many plastic shopping bags you have at home. Keep count and try to reduce the number you take home.
  7. Cut down on plastic produce bags by bringing your own reusable produce bags.
  8. Spread the word. Ask your local shops to stock plastic bag alternatives if they don’t already and encourage friends and family to also get involved.


Related Post: Neither Paper nor Plastic

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22 Responses to “The Real Cost of Free Plastic Bags”

  1. I like your story immensely. Can we use it in our educational magazine Scope? (for high students in Holland)

  2. Verda Vivo Says:

    Thank you for your comment. You would be most welcome to use the story. Credit to Verda Vivo,, would be appreciated. ~ Daryl

  3. Jeff Says:

    Global Resource Corporation is developing a system to recycle plastic and rubber into oil and gas using microwaves. This will really make recycling plastic economical.

    They recently finished testing a prototype and confirmed that it produces more oil and gas than it consumes converting tires.

  4. Helen Says:

    As I too think this is a big issue, I want to use reuseable bags, but the thing is that here in northern, many of us uses the plastic bags to pack our garbage in and we don´t have any other possibilities to pack the garbage at the time. So here´s where I and many others get stucked. Maybe someone here can help us with this “garbage” issue so we can stop using plastic bags?

  5. garg Says:

    Where can I get 1 ton of plastic bags for $32? Please let me know.

  6. Paul Says:

    Hi, you haven’t sourced any of the numbers you quoted. Can you please include that information? Otherwise, how are people supposed to know you didn’t just make the numbers up?

  7. Verda Vivo Says:

    Paul, Quite right. My source was, The original text: “For example, it costs $4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32 (Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment as reported by Christian Science Monitor).”

  8. Verda Vivo Says:

    Garg, Commodities markets aren’t normally accessible to the individual person.

  9. Edouard Says:

    Yeah, got to say that one tonne of plastic bag is pretty useful…. if you got the storage facilities.

    Garg : use instead a backpack… it will cost you approximately the same amount of money and won’t take as much space in your place ^^

  10. Verda Vivo Says:

    Helen, Bag-to Nature garbage bags are a Canadian product. They are made of corn, compostable and degradable. Spendy but might be a possibility. ~ Daryl

  11. I like that you’ve mentioned plastic produce bags as well, many don’t consider these bags as part of the palstic bag problem. My new product/website will give you the freedom to eliminate your produce plastic–100% nylon drawstring bags. These bags only weigh .02 oz (comparable to plastic bags which weigh .01 oz), are completly see-through so your produce doesn’t have to be removed to be weighed and are lightweight enough to easily be “scrunched” up into your shopping bags. A bonus is that they are also ideal for bulk beans and grains too!

  12. Helen,
    You might consider what is called “casual” composting. This means you put all of your organic waste into a compost bin and let the worms have at it, no muss, no fuss. This has put me in a position to not have to line my trash cans with plastic anymore.

  13. […] piling up everywhere. (Read an informative – and scary – article on this here. And check out this amazing post on Verda Vivo.) What choice will we make now? Convenience? Or can we step up to a challenge that […]

  14. naenae Says:

    hi iam just 12 years of age and i am digusted with how people treat the environment.
    animals are dying because of pullution, rubbish and plastic bags. why isnt anyone doing any thing?

  15. Verda Vivo Says:

    I, too, get quite discouraged at times. Talk to your parents and teachers about recycling, using reusable bags when shopping, buying products with the least amount of packaging, picking up trash when you see it. See if you can get them involved, perhaps start a program at home or in your school. You can make a difference. ~ Daryl

  16. Dunch Says:

    U are such a fucker you fucking hippie if you hate what i said send me a fucking virus i dun fucking care so shut up you fking hippie

  17. Verda Vivo Says:

    Dunch, You illustrate the case for birth control “eloquently”.

  18. Jet's Girl Says:

    I love the slideshow, do you mind if I use it in a presentation in my environmental science class Tuesday?

  19. Wheelie Bins Says:

    I do exactly the same i have the car full of bags that i can reuse.

  20. Crosby Says:

    Everyone loves your blog! Have you got a facebook or myspace or myspace page? I’d like to meet up and speak about a couple of things. I appreciate you for all of your work.

  21. rosepedaler Says:

    Reblogged this on rosepedaler and commented:
    Something to think about

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