You may not see them on your list, but paper and plastic bags are the deadliest items you can find at a grocery store. These pollutants are widely available, often for free, and have become a part of many people’s daily lives outside the market. But while paper and plastic bags are sometimes reused for lunch-bags or picking up after pets, their production and ultimate destination result in horrific environmental consequences.
According to the EPA reports, American shoppers use more than 100 billion lightweight polyethylene plastic bags each year, and only a small portion are ever recycled. Most recycling centers can’t deal with them — they just clog up the machinery, Waste Management maintains.
In the ocean, marine animals can mistake floating bags for food, report Lucy Calkins and Colleagues from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project from Units of Study for Teaching Reading:
“Just one nibble can be deadly. Plastic bags can block the digestive tract, causing a slow and agonizing death. Other animals are strangled when bags wrap around their bodies. In all, thousands of marine animals—including sea turtles, seals, seabirds, dolphins, whales, and sharks—die each year because of plastic bags.”
It takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. And the bags don’t break down completely. Instead, the plastic photo-degrades into microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment, according to a study published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. Each drop of water in the Earth’s oceans now contains trillions of these tiny indigestible microplastics that accumulate as they move up the food-chain, Scientific American reports.
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