A middle school student on plastic bags

12 05 2008

Gunpowder Falls State Park, outside of Baltimore, MD, recently ran an student essay contest called the “Carbon Footprint Challenge.” The winning essay, by Thomas Lehner from Sparrows Point Middle School, is informative and compelling. Here’s the whole thing, courtesy of Gunpowder Currents newsletter:

A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide a person uses in their lifetime. This essay challenge is to reduce my carbon footprint on the earth and to help others reduce their carbon footprint on the earth. I decided to use canvas bags instead of plastic bags at the grocery store to reduce my carbon footprint. It is really not as hard as you may think it would be to do! All that it really involves is remembering to take canvas bags with you when you go to the store.

There is a lot of research on the effect of plastic bags on the environment. According to the website http://www.reusablebags.com/facts.php, “each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed world-wide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.” This averages out to 900 plastic bags per person per year! My research also told me that many different species of animals die from eating plastic bags. Whales, sea turtles, and seals are some of the many victims of careless littering. It also takes up to 1000 years for a bag in a landfill to decompose and when it decomposes it releases toxic chemicals into the environment. It costs more money and resources to use a “free” plastic bag than it costs to make or buy your own canvas bag.

With these facts in mind, I decided to figure out my family’s weekly consumption of plastic bags. I calculated that if we go to Walmart, the grocery store and the dollar store each week, we use an average of 30 bags per week. This would be 120 bags a month and 1,440 bags per year. Even if we practice bag recycling at the grocery store and reuse the plastic bags, we are still part of the problem of harming the environment and hurting wildlife. By using 2 canvas bags and 1 cooler bag each week, we are saving an average of 1,440 bags per year.

At first, the most difficult thing to do was to remember to take the bags into the stores. Several times we had to go back out to the car to get the bags. Another problem was dealing with the checkers because they were either shocked or annoyed with us for bringing our own bags. Their job is to place the items in plastic bags quickly and using canvas takes a minute or two longer to do. However we found that bagging our own items made it easier to carry the groceries inside to our house. We only had to make 1 trip with the 3 bags instead of 3 trips with 10 plastic bags. Also, we fold our canvas bags and put them back in the car and we do not have to store the plastic bags for recycling or reuse.

By doing this Carbon Footprint Challenge, I learned that plastic bags have a major role in the destruction of the environment. However, by simply using canvas bags my family can reduce the number of plastic bags used by 1,440 per year. This is an easy way to help the environment and cut down on the negative effects of plastic bags.

For more plastic reduction inspiration, check out my previous post Just One Thing: Less Plastic.

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