According to the Yale Environmental Performance Index, the United States ranks number thirty-three in the world. This is behind most of the major developed countries like Germany (6), the UK (12), and France (27), while still edging out Belgium (36) and Russia (73). Taking an even closer look the weakest areas of our environment are forests and agriculture. Specifically looking at the Northeast and Pennsylvania, the temperature is rising and expected to be 10 degrees warmer by the year 2080. This may not seem like an issue now, but that is a drastic change for a lot of species as well as for areas that are susceptible to melting ice, eventually leading to a global sea-level rising. So why should we care about this? What can the average person do to help reverse the trend?
Human health is something we take for granted in the United States. We don’t realize how fragile it actually is. According the the EPA, the changes due to environmental change will likely affect all of our lives. From things as small as lengthening the pollen season, to bigger issues like increased death and sickness due to poor air quality. These problems are only the beginning of the ways we are hurting our environment.
Now that we have a little background on the issue, I want to explore some everyday items people can use to help keep our environment just a little bit cleaner, specifically reusable bags. We’ve all seen them in our local grocery store; reusable bags seem to becoming more and more popular, but why should you invest in one instead of just getting the usual plastic bag? Plastic is actually one of the biggest problems we face when it comes to environmental hazards. For one, plastic bags are the most detrimental items when it comes to ocean pollution killing about 1 million birds along with 100,000 mammals a year. Every year about 5 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide. By owning a reusable bag, these numbers could be significantly lessened.
People have this information, it is common knowledge that reusable bags are a better option than plastic. Yet studies show that only about 40% of grocery shoppers are using the reusable bags. In my research, the main reason that kept coming up as to why more people were not substituting reusable for plastic bags was the cost. People do not want to purchase an item when they can have it for free. The issue with this argument is that although reusable bags are not free they sell online for less than a dollar. Buying a few to keep in the car on grocery runs would not be a significant amount of money when the result is potentially help the world. It can be difficult to convince people of this because they are not physically seeing the positive changes that come from their decision first hand. Although there is not a way to change this, there is a way to incentivize people to change their ways. For example, in California they have turned to legislation to make sure they are doing their part. Every plastic bag costs twenty-five cents, meanwhile shopping with a reusable bag is free. Instead of being charged the plastic bag rate every time, most Californians have been enticed to turn to the one time rate of purchasing a reusable bag. By implementing more laws like this across the US, I believe we would see a massive reduction of our plastic bag usage.
The biggest push back against implementing legislation like this comes from, no surprise, the petroleum and plastics industry, The plastics industry is the third largest manufacturing industry and employs around 900,000 people in the US alone. Plastic bags are a large focus of their production. It is easy to see why implementing this type of policy would be a major setback for their production. However, it is important to look at the greater good. Even if it is sacrificing a few jobs, making sure the planet we live on stays healthy is a top priority.
The bags come in all shapes and sizes; you can even customize them online or buy ones that have the logo of your favorite grocery market. For consumers buying hot or cold goods there are insulated bags to make sure your food stays at the correct temperature. Despite criticisms coming from the plastics industry, purchasing reusable bags are the first steps in preserving our environment and saving animals along the way. Next time you have the option, opt for reusable over plastic.