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Retail Plastic Bags Gone Wild

Updated on February 15, 2013
A sea turtle mistaken a plastic bag for food.   Over 1 million birds an 100.000 sea turtles die annually from ingesting or becoming entangled in marine debris, such plastic bags.
A sea turtle mistaken a plastic bag for food. Over 1 million birds an 100.000 sea turtles die annually from ingesting or becoming entangled in marine debris, such plastic bags.

 Every time I go shopping I do my best to stop using plastic bags or paper bags from stores. I usually bring my own canvas or mesh reusable bags and If I do forget them I prefer to carry the items in my hands, my purse (which is big) or in the shopping cart to my car. I do my best to reduce the amount of junk I let behind me and I am pretty proud of my self. But I feel that my efforts are undermined by creepy greedy cheap and careless companies. Especially the ones that own huge retail chains of stores. Why do I feel that way? Because I work in one of the stores owned by such companies. And I know some of them are huge contributors to the landfills.

Stores of all kind provide customers with the convenience of a shopping bag, plastic or paper. Most customers need the bag to carry their items around and they expect their merchandise to be placed in such bags at the register. Then they go home and decide that they do not want or do not need that items anymore. They place unwanted stuff in the same bag they received, along with any sales check, and bring it back to the store. So far, nothing out of ordinary. The clerk at the counter or the costumer service desk does the return and then one of these scenario happens:

1. When the customer gets  the bag back

Clerk: Here is your new receipt and your bag, have a good day and thank you for shopping with us.

Customer: Thank you.

(And the customer takes his/her bag, turns around, finds a trash bin and trows away the bag.)

2. When the customer gets back the bag but does not want it

Clerk: Here is your new receipt and your bag, have a good day and thank you for shopping with us.

Customer: Thanks, I don't need the bag. Can you toss it?

(The clerk then tosses the plastic bag in the garbage bin.)

3. When the customer does not get his bag back

Clerk: Here is your receipt. Do you want me to toss the bag for you?

Customer: Yes, thank you.

Clerk : Have a good day and thank you for shopping with us.

(The clerk tosses the bag in the garbage bin.)

At night, when the store closes, the garbage bins are emptied. The next morning the trash from the entire store is collected by the garbage company and dumped. There goes our costumer plastic shopping bag!

these UGG shoulder bags can hold your ecofriendly reusable shopping bags

During a busy season, a big store could handle hundreds of returns. So hundreds of retail plastic bags are thrown in the trash. They all end up in the landfills where it takes century to decompose, all this time releasing toxins in the ground. Nobody has seen a totally decomposed shopping bags in his/her lifetime.

Same happens with the plastic hangers used for fashion. Some companies recycle them at great expenses. Some other companies do not care and just toss them and others just gave up on recycling hangers to save money.  

When I shop at my own store I have to put my stuff in a plastic bag. This is the company's policy. Once home, I store that bag in a special place for recycling purpose. Once or twice a year I get all the recycling plastic bag I collected and bring them to my local grocery store who  recycles them. I still have plenty of plastic in my garbage, as some bags, specially food packaging bags are not recyclable. But i do expect that our efforts to be understood and sustained by the big retailers who probably make us pay for that "free" plastic bag anyway. Recycling needs to be part of their daily routine.

There are alternatives to plastic bags: reusable shopping bags

Some facts about plastic bags

  • Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute.
  • According to the EPA, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.
  • According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion.)

Collection, hauling and disposal of plastic bag waste create an additional environmental impact. An estimated 8 billion pounds of plastic bags, wraps and sacks enter the waste stream every year in the US alone, putting an unnecessary burden on our diminishing landfill space and causing air pollution if incinerated.



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    • cameciob profile image

      cameciob 6 years ago

      Sheila,...That's a very good thing. I should do the same. I always wonder what happenes with the foam containers from fresh mushrooms....Thank you for stopping and commenting.

    • profile image

      Sheila 6 years ago

      Bring my own container to restaurants for "doggy bagging". So far have kept over 20 foam plastic containers out of landfills.

    • cameciob profile image

      cameciob 7 years ago

      Hi Nell, I do forget to take my bags with me too. Sometime I forget them in the car. Now I found one that folds so small that fits in a pocket of my purse. The point is that we become more aware of the problem and try to do our best. Thank you for the visit.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

      Hi, yes I used to use the plastic bags, but now I try and buy one and keep using it. sometimes I forget to take it with me though, so I have to get another plastic bag. but I do use them over and over again. thanks. cheers nell

    • cameciob profile image

      cameciob 7 years ago


      you are my first reader. I used them for my lunches too but I got a lunch-box recently. I’m impressed, you are making a very good use of plastic bags. Thank you for stopping and commenting.

    • wrypatch profile image

      wrypatch 7 years ago from Virginia

      Yeah, we use the cloth bags, too, though some plastic ones sneak through. We use them for taking my lunches to work and the I bring them home once a week or so. We've had the same bin of plastic bags now for more than a year. Hate to think how many would have been chucked without reuse.

      Thanks for the info.