How Many Marine Mammals Did Your Plastic Grocery Bag Kill Today?

Did you know that 500 billion plastic bags are consumed on this planet every year? The sobering statistic: “more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year from ingestion of or entanglement in plastics” is the subject of a new ad by the Surfrider Foundation.

With DisneyNature opening a new film about the ocean on Earth Day, scientists confirming an Atlantic garbage patch that rivals the one in the pacific, I think we are going to be hearing a lot more about plastics in our oceans. The attention will be well deserved but I struggle with is what to do next. Surfrider and others suggest we all reduce our plastic use and therefore plastic trash. Great. But, is that going to do it?

I don’t mean to malign the good work of those encouraging us all to live greener. (You may have read about Beth Terry’s efforts to live a life less plastic here on Care2 a couple months ago.) I agree that small actions add up and that the personal is where the political begins, but I still prefer the more systemic solutions to problems.

My hometown of Washington DC recently implemented a $0.05 bag tax (both plastic and paper), and the city and many merchants liberally distributed reusable grocery bags in the weeks leading up to and following the start of the tax. It will be some time before we know if residents in the nation’s capital changed their plastic bag habits and began toting the reusable totes or simply absorbed the tax, or some of both (proceeds from the tax will fund river clean up efforts along the Anacostia).

A bag tax is only one of many options for systemic solutions that range from banning plastic products to creating incentives for biodegradable alternatives or reduced consumption, but we’ve implemented very few. The city of San Francisco and the entire country of China banned plastic bags entirely.

What do you think we should do about plastic in the ocean?

Need more inspiration and real animal imagery? Check out Chris Jordan’s photos of albatross chick carcasses and the plastic contents of their stomachs (not for the faint of heart): Midway: Message from the Gyre.

The photo A Fine Mess by flickr user ingridtaylar is used under a Creative Commons License, CC BY 2.0

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Carolt M.
Carolt M.4 months ago

The same thing I wanted to learn, which you shared with us, really inspiring!
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Estelle S.
Estelle S.2 years ago

Ban the plastic bags

Shirley Coulter
Shirley Coulter2 years ago

We so...focus on plastic bags...but having lived and worked on the seashore *oceanfront* for many years, I cannot tell you the number of birds and marine animals I have seen the demise of...BECAUSE of horrendous 6-pack holders. Why is there NO action against this singular most destructive item...??????

Beth H.
beth Hall4 years ago

We just have to keep educating and trying to right our wrongs. But sadly for so many animals it's too late.

Sara D.
Sara D.5 years ago

I have canvas bags, but once in a while I forget them. I don't throw them away, though. I reuse the ones I take home for many different things. By far canvas bags are better( for one thing they don't break when you put groceries in them) and would be what I would suggest.

Carole Douglas
Carole Douglas5 years ago

I re-use my plastic bottles also, until they need replacing; then we recycle them... but have read that they cannot tolerate heat or cold - thats when they release the toxins... God help us to return to the way it was before technology made our lives easier.

.5 years ago


Judith Emerson
Judith Emerson5 years ago

Roomie prefers lightweight everything. She didn't like the heavy insulated reusables, so i reluctantly bought a pkg of 24 plastic bottles of water in December & i wash & refill from our filter-pitcher. Convenient & light-weight. Don't expect to buy any more...ever.

Daniel M.
Past Member 5 years ago

This should be done ASAP a total world wind ban on plastic bags as of yesterday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!