How Many Marine Animals Did Your Plastic Grocery Bag Kill Today?
An Animal Rights Article from


Jennifer Mueller on
March 2010

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. 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 five-cent 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.

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).

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