Milestones in Fighting Plastic Pollution

Milestones in Fighting Plastic Pollution


Michael Kappel / Flickr


According to the Surfrider Foundation, Americans threw away a shocking 3.8 million tons of plastic "bags, sacks and wraps" in 2009, but only 9.4% of this total was recycled. Even the phrase "throw away" is misleading when it comes to plastic: the material simply doesn't decompose. Even recycled, it essentially stays in the environment forever. 

Stories about huge floating garbage patches in the ocean, and in our local waterways, has given communities a glimpse of the impact of all this waste. Many consumers, organizations and governments have taken big steps to reduce their plastic pollution in recent years though. Here are just a few:


Governments Set Precedent

In the past decade, governments around the globe have underscored the need to cut plastic bag usage:

  • Ireland. In March 2002, Ireland instituted a tax of 15 cents per plastic bag, which has led to more than a 90 percent reduction in overall usage.
  • South Africa. In 2003, South Africa became the first country in Africa to ban plastic bags. Other nations on the continent followed: Rwanda (2004), Tanzania (2006) and Kenya (2011), among others.
  • San Francisco. In 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban plastic grocery bags.
  • China. In 2008, the Chinese government banned free plastic bags in order to cut down on litter and pollution. The ban has saved the country an estimated 4.8 million tons of oil which would have otherwise been used to produce the bags.
  • Washington, DC: In 2010, the city became the first in the nation to impose a fee on plastic grocery bags, leading to a sharp reduction in their use. Mexico City also banned bags in 2010.
  • Hawaii. In 2012, Hawaii became the first state in the U.S. to ban plastic bags. 2012 was also a notable year for bans in Los Angeles (the largest U.S. city to make this move) and the country of Haiti.

Retailers Pitch In

Major retailers are shifting to a reusable mindset, too:

  • Ikea. In 2007, the home furnishings retailer began charging five cents per plastic bag to reduce consumption and encourage shoppers to use reusable bags. Proceeds from the plastic bags—estimated at $7 million—will be donated to EarthShare member, American Forests.
  • Wal-Mart. In 2008, Wal-Mart partnered with the EDF to cut down plastic bag usage by one-third by 2013. Through its reuse and recycling efforts, Wal-Mart expects to eliminate more than 135 million pounds of plastic waste globally.
  • Whole Foods. In early 2008 the healthy food retailer stopped using plastic bags, encouraging shoppers to use reusable totes.To sweeten the deal, the store also give customers a 5 cent credit for bringing their own bags.

Make a Personal Impact

How can you cut your plastic bag usage? Let the three Rs be your guide:

  • Reduce. Dramatically reduce your plastic bag usage with a reusable tote. Most major retailers sell inexpensive reusable bags, and our organic cotton reusable bags make it easy to support EarthShare and your favorite environmental charities.
  • Reuse. From lining garbage cans to doing doggie duty, reusing your existing plastic bags is a better alternative to pitching them. Read our ideas for reuse here.
  • Recycle. Most grocery stores collect used plastic bags for recycling. The next time you head out for a loaf of bread; bring your old bags with you.


Through our collective efforts, plastic pollution could be a thing of the past. So grab your reusable tote and start shopping!