The Convenience of Destroying the Planet: Cheap Products at a High Cost

There are few things more convenient than going to the grocery store and someone bagging your groceries for you. Though the shopping itself can be a chore, by the time you’ve paid, all of your items have been tucked safe into a plastic bag ready to be transported from the store to your vehicle to your house. Each shopping trip collects more bags – a few  here, a bunch there – soon, these bags are everywhere! (Does everyone have a plastic bag full of bags under their sink, or is it just me?!) What begins as a convenience is soon taking over our lives!

The Problem: Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are, dare I say, one of the most common items around. Their purpose is to get your items from the store to your home, but they are often cheaply made and flimsy by nature and rarely make it there. Those that do make it get stuffed into a drawer or cabinet for use in some future project and those bags that are riddled with holes get thrown away. And so many bags! 5 trillion plastic bags are produced each year globally – that’s 160,000 every second! It is estimated that each individual person is responsible for using 700 bags a year. That’s a lot of shopping!

Where do they come from?

Whether a bag is a thin grocery bag or a slightly superior shopping bag, they’re made the same way – out of #2 plastic, polyethylene, or HDPE (high-density plastic). Polyethylene is made from crude oil which has been refined, then heated and pressurized to create resin pellets of various densities. These pellets are then heated and pressurized into a bubble shape, which is then cooled and stamped with potentially toxic dyes in the shape of the organization’s logo. 

How bad is it? 

Plastic bags are responsible for 40% of the 191 million barrels of crude oil that is set aside for the plastic industry – and it is increasing every year! Drilling sites disrupt ecosystems that are important to our planet and contribute both carbon dioxide and methane gas into the atmosphere, further advancing climate change. Additionally, a report by the Center for Western Priorities showed an immense amount of oil spills – 2,834 spills in only three states in just 2018. Imagine if we looked at all of the states over the last 50 years! The oil from these spills leak into our waterways and poison wildlife. Aside from oil spills, the plastic bags are responsible for the deaths of about 100,000 animals annually. Marine animals often mistake them for food and eat them, then when terrestrial animals eat marine life, the plastic passes on to them – including humans! In fact, a 2020 study published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal found microplastics in 100% of all marine life that they tested. Finally, the production of plastic bags releases carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting chemicals into the air, adding to global pollution. 

Can they be recycled?

Yes! – but not in the way that you think. Plastic bags should never be mixed in with your regular recycling, because the material is so thin that it will get jammed in the recycling equipment and cause major issues. The best way to recycle your unneeded plastic bags is to return them to the store from which they came. Most stores have a bin near the front of the building where they can be disposed of conveniently. These discarded bags can then be recycled into new bags or into different products. For example, plastic bags are being recycled into a sustainable substitute for wood! 200,000 plastic bags are dumped into landfills every hour, where they can take up to 1,000 years to break down, so it is important that plastic bags are returned to the store every time – even if they are ripped! 

The Solution: 

 Plastic bags are cheap, flexible, and convenient – but at a serious cost. They are clogging up our landfills, waterways, and homes and costing us much more than they’re worth. At Potter Park Zoo, we recognize that there are other options. We have forgone the plastic and opted for brown paper bags that are sustainably made and can be conveniently recycled! Of course, you will always have the option to decline the bag in favor of carrying your new memento. We also sell a variety of souvenir bags that can be used again and again wherever you’d like – even the grocery store! Additionally, most stores sell large reusable bags that can be used anytime you shop. If you forget your bags at home, ask for paper instead of plastic, which is just as convenient and more easily recyclable. If you’d like environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing reusable options, please see the list below:

All Cotton and Linen™ Reusable Bulk Bags

Frusack™ Reusable Produce Bags

  • Made from cornstarch
  • Biodegradable and compostable
  • Sustainable alternative to flimsy plastic produce bags
  • Sold at

PackIt™ Freezable Shopping Bag

  • Made from PVC, BPA, phthalate, and lead-free materials
  • Freezable gel pack to keep perishable foods cold
  • Sold on

BeeGreen™ Reusable Shopping Bag

  • Made from machine washable polyester cloth
  • Can be folded and placed in the attached pouch
  • Sold on

It may take an extra mental step to remember the reusable shopping bags or to ask the store attendant for paper instead of plastic, but it will be worth it when you don’t have to sift through piles of plastic bags when opening a cabinet or when you can avoid eating microplastics along with your seafood. The future of the planet is in our hands and we alone are responsible for what happens to it. Just one step in the right direction can make a huge difference. Why not start right away?