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Essau on Plastic Bags

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It is estimated that between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed each year worldwide. That breaks down to almost 1 million bags every minute. In the United States alone, approximately 100 billion plastic shopping bags are consumed annually with the average American using between 300 and 700 each year. Today I am going to talk to you about the harmful effects plastic bags have on the oceans and the animals that inhabit them. I will also discuss some of the alternatives to plastic bags.

As the consumption of plastic bags increase, so too does the amount of plastic waste in the oceans. According to Ocean Conservancy, plastic bags are the second most common type of debris in coastal waters. Cigarette butts are the most common. All of this plastic has led to the development of islands of trash off our country's coasts. The largest such garbage dump is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Located approximately 600 miles off the California coast, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a patch of floating plastic trash held together by currents stretching across the northern Pacific Ocean. Composed of about 7 billion pounds of plastic garbage, it is about twice the size of Texas. A single plastic bag can take up to a 1,000 years to degrade. When the bags eventually break down, they don't biodegrade, they photodegrade. This means the materials break down into smaller toxic fragments. Every square mile of the ocean has about 46,000 plastic fragments floating in it. In a study conducted by the Algalita Marine Research Institute, it was found that that plastic fragments floating in ocean water outweigh surface zooplankton by a factor of 6 - 1. All this waste contaminates the water causing great harm to sea turtles and other marine animals.

Every year approximately 100,000 sea turtle and other marine mammals die due to plastic in our oceans. Most sea turtle deaths from plastic are due to either ingestion or from being entangled. Sea turtles have the unfortunate combination of loving to eat jellyfish and bad eyesight. To a nearly blind sea turtle, a floating plastic bag looks very similar to a jellyfish. According to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, between one third and one half of sea turtles swimming in American waters have some kind of plastic impacted in their stomachs. This ingestion of plastic can cause them to feel perpetually full and will eventually lead to their starvation. The plastic in our waters also entangles the sea turtles, which can cause them to drown.

If plastic bags pose such a large threat to the oceans, you might be wondering why don't we just recycle them? Recycling rates for plastic bags in the United States are extremely low. Only 1 to 3% of plastic bags end up getting recycled. Furthermore, many bags collected for recycling never get recycled. Instead they end up in a landfill because it is more expensive to recycle a plastic bag than it is to produce



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