How Many Plastic Bags Are Recycled in the US?

Americans use an estimated 102 billion plastic bags each year, but less than 1% of them are recycled. Plastic bags are the second most littered item after plastic bottles, research shows. The amount of plastic waste in the US has increased from less than 1% of municipal waste in 1960 to more than 10% by the early 21st century. Plastic bags are not biodegradable, so they are at a high risk of causing problems in the soil or water if they are left in landfills, because more than three-fourths of all landfills are thought to have at least one leak.

More about waste:

  • If all of the paper and plastic cups and flatware disposed of each year in the US were placed end to end, it would circle the equator an estimated 300 times.

  • California spends about $8.5 million US Dollars (USD) each year to clean up plastic bags from the streets.

  • After Ireland started charging for plastic bags in 2002, their use dropped by 90%. The average Irish person uses less than 30 bags each year.

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Discussion Comments


@Chmander - I forgot to mention this, but about halfway through the movie, we learn that the humans have abandoned Earth because it's become inhabitable. They reside in a gargantuan spaceship, and are basically gelatinous blobs. Not only are they incapable of doing anything for themselves, but they move around in hovercrafts, and are fed liquified food in a cup. It's a fascinating and disturbing concept.


@RoyalSpyder - I've seen a lot of movies, but I haven't seen Wall-E yet. However, I'll definitely check it out someday, as it sounds rather interesting. If you don't mind me asking, are there any other concepts in the movie that portray anything apocalyptic or abandoned?


@Chmander - Speaking of which, have you ever seen a Pixar movie called Wall-E? It's pretty bleak and depressing, but I feel that it does a fantastic job at what might happen to Earth if we continue down our path of destruction. In case you haven't seen the movie, it basically revolves around a trash robot named Wall-E. He is destined to a life of picking up garbage on a ruined and abandoned Earth, until he falls in love.

If you were to get a glimpse of the movie, you'd see that the concept of the ruined planet (especially the visuals), do seem a little farfetched. After all, would our planet really look that bad if we neglected it? However, regardless, it's definitely something to think about.


In my opinion, it's very disturbing that so many plastic bags aren't even recycled. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with using them, but it's better to reuse instead of throwing away. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it really makes me wonder where the world is headed if this keeps up.

After all, although the article only discusses the issue of plastic bags, there are lots of materials that aren't biodegradable. Imagine how much of that has built up over the years, and how much it will continue to build.

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