Consumption and Its Consequences: Shopping Bags

Shopping consumes billions of bags each year.  Where do they go?

Holiday shopping consumes millions of bags each year. Where do they go?

Among the hundreds of entries in The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage are several pertaining to shopping. As we are in the peak of the holiday season, an apt one to consider is the entry on shopping bags, in which Scott Lukas notes that the vast majority of shopping bags used worldwide (over one trillion annually) are non-degradable single-use plastic bags.

There are numerous impacts associated with shopping bags. Plastic bags have been the subject of the most ridicule. In terms of their production, plastic bags require the use of petroleum. Aesthetics and quality of life are a concern with bag use. Plastic bags litter many nations, including South Africa, whose citizens have dubbed the bag the “national flower.” [Marine animals] are particularly affected by plastic bags. They often mistake bags for food and, after ingestion, die from intestinal blockage. Plastic bags have a long life cycle and may take 20–1,000 years to biodegrade. Plastic bags are sometimes culprits in the blockage of water drains. They were attributed as part of the cause of severe flooding damage in the 1988 and 1998 floods in Bangladesh, a country that later banned them in 2002. Bags are also expensive in terms of the cleanup that is needed to deal with them.

Lukas goes on to discuss alternatives to single-use plastic bags in use around the world, including biodegradables and high-status durable bags advertising brands such as department stores and fashion lines. For more on this subject and many others relating to shopping, see if your local library has The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage.

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