Wildlife-Friendly Trash Disposal: Plastic Bags
A study published this month in the Journal of Arid Environments found that garbage patches aren't restricted to oceans — they pollute deserts, too. Winds can waft trash to distant habitats, where they can harm or even kill animals. This, we'll explain how to discard your trash to minimize its harm to wildlife.
Tip #1: Tie plastic bags into a knot before tossing them. Better yet, repurpose them, or avoid using them altogether.
Worldwide, shoppers use more than 500 billion plastic bags per year — or one million bags per minute. American shoppers use 380 billion plastic bags annually. That’s about 60,000 plastic bags every five seconds.
Much of those plastic bags end up in landfills, but they also find their way to natural habitats. According to the Ocean Conservancy, plastic bags rank among the top trash items collected during coastal cleanups.
Plastic bags devastate wildlife. Marine animals can suffocate or choke on a translucent, floating bag mistaken for a jellyfish. If swallowed, a bag could block the animal’s intestines, causing it to starve. And because plastic bags take hundreds, or possibly thousands, of years to decompose, a single plastic bag could harm several animals.
The surest way to prevent plastic bags from endangering wildlife? Avoid using them, and opt for reusable alternatives. But if that’s not possible, tie plastic bags into a large, dense knot before tossing them to lower chances that the wind blows them from a garbage truck into wild habitat. Rinse off any food residue to avoid enticing animals. Better yet, repurpose plastic bags into kitschy, yet practical items—such as a wallet, laptop case, or lamp.
Image by iStockphoto/Aleksandar Jocic
Melissa Pandika is an editorial intern at Sierra and a graduate journalism student at Stanford University. Her interests include environmental health and justice, urban environmental issues, and conservation biology. She has a soft spot for cetaceans.