Bagged Down but Not Out: Why We Are Reducing Plastic Bag Use

12 minutes is the average use time for a plastic bag but it remains in our landfills, oceans, parks and beaches for thousands of years. Why does this matter?

Wasting Natural Resources

It requires vast amounts of natural resources, water, and energy to manufacture and ship disposable bags. In the United States, according to the EPA, we use over 380 billion plastic bags and wraps yearly, requiring 12 million barrels of oil just to make them.

Causing Localized Flooding

Plastic bags never fully break down, and often clog storm drains and damage infrastructure on their way to become ocean pollution.

Negatively Impacting on Wildlife and Waterways

In the ocean, turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them. The bags do not pass through the turtles’ digestive system and block their intestines. They die of starvation. Studies on dead turtles have found that more than 50 percent have plastic in their stomachs. Similarly, seabirds, fish and other marine critters also mistake pieces of plastic for food, or become entangled in plastic, leading to exhaustion, starvation and eventual death. And plastic bags are just as much a hazard for wildlife in interior lakes and waterways. In addition, plastic collects water and can become a breeding site for mosquitoes and other pests. Did you know that it takes just one bottle cap of water for mosquitoes to multiply?

Increasing Costs to Consumers and Taxpayers

Though plastic bags in most parts of the country are given out for free at check-out counters, U.S. retailers spend $4 billion per year on disposable bags, and that cost is passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices. Once bags are consumed, they are also expensive to clean up and dispose of. For example, New York City spends $10 million disposing of plastic bags.

What We’re Doing

Our partnership focuses on promoting proven and effective policy mechanisms for reducing plastic bag usage as well as reaching out to individual consumers. Our government and nonprofit partners have developed programs, educational materials, and collected policy resources on plastic bag efforts.

Smart Policies Can Cut Costs and Save Our Waterways


Educational Resources