Reusable tote 1200

Single-use plastic bags are convenient, but because of their shape and lightweight, plastic bags easily get picked up by the wind and washed down storm drains into our creeks, lakes, bays, the Gulf, and beyond. Plastic debris can harm creatures in multiple ways:

  • Plastic can be eaten by species that feed from the ocean bottom, where plastic particles sink, and also by species that feed in the water column, where plastic bits float.
  • Creatures can get entangled in discarded fishing gear or wrapped by a bag. Plastic debris on the ocean floor can alter the natural processes that keep the ecosystem functioning.
  • Some invasive species and even microbes can travel on plastic marine debris and disturb new locations.

You can help by using fewer new bags and reusing what you already have. Let's start building a Clean Water Future by doing something small that makes a big difference


Plastic Production is Rising

For the last 20 years, worldwide production of plastic has been increasing at an average rate of 5% per year. In 2011, 32 millions tons of plastic were produced in the US alone, a large part of that is used in packaging. (PlasticsEurope Market Research Group)

8 Million Tons per Year

Roughly 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each year worldwide including plastic bags, plastic bottles, cutlery, and more (Jambeck et al, 2015. via NPR)

Debris on Dauphin Island Beach - Photo by Caitlin Wessel

Single Use Plastic Is a Big Deal

32 million tons of plastic were produced in the US in 2012, and 14 million tons of that was for containers and packaging, yet only 13.8% of that was recycled. The rest ended up in a landfill or worse was washed into our streams and rivers (EPA, 2012)

272,399 Plastic Bags Picked Up

In 2020, volunteers picked up 272,399 plastic bags in coastal cleanups across the world. Plastic bags are consistently in the top 10 types of trash collected during cleanup days worldwide (Ocean Conservancy, 2021).

5.25 Trillion Pieces of Plastic in Ocean

More than 269,000 tons of plastic particles can be found floating in the world's oceans, most of it small pieces between 1 mm and 4.75 mm in size (Eriksen et al., 2014).

Degraded plastics recovered from Dauphin Island by Caitlin Wessel

17.7% of Municipal Waste Steam is Plastic

Close to 18% of our municipal solid waste stream in 2013 was made of plastic materials, and that is after recycling and composting. (EPA, 2013).

Things You Can Do

Bring Your Own Bag

Use totes or fabric bags when you go grocery shopping. This will help reduce the total amount of plastic bags produced.

Put a Foldable Tote in Your Bag or Backpack

Keep a foldable shopping bag in your backpack or purse, so you always have a bag available.

Reuse the Shopping Bags You Have

Reusing your plastic grocery bags will keep the bags out of landfills and our waters. Keep some in your car and use them the next time you shop. Keep in mind that you can reuse the small produce bags as well.

Use Fewer Plastic Bags

When you find yourself without any reusable bags, ask for fewer bags, pack the bags yourself, or for a few items, ask for no bags at all!

Make Yourself a Bag

If you quilt or love to sew, make yourself some fabric bags. They make perfect presents. Tutorial to sew a bag from fabric (

Photo by queenofdiy

Recycle When You Can

Recycle plastic grocery bags at your recycle center or at stores like Walmart supercenter, Neighborhood market, Target, Lowe's. Find your closest Recycling Center


3 Steps to Starting a Bag Ban In Your Community

FactoryDirect Promos has a simple guide on how to get your community to implement a plastic bag ban.
1. Do Your Homework,
2. Start a Movement,
3. Work with Your Local Officials

Plastic Bags Used Per Year Counter

How many plastic bags are used each year? We use 5 trillion plastic bags… per year! That’s 160,000 a second! And over 700 a year for every single person on the planet. We can do better than that. (

Example Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance - Boston

In 2017, Boston, Massachusetts, passed a city ordinance to reduce the number of plastic bags used in the city.

Example Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance - Seattle

In 2011, the Seattle City Council adopted a city ordinance that regulates the distribution of single-use plastic and biodegradable carryout bags and requiring retail establishments to collect a pass-through charge from customers requesting recyclable paper carryout bags.

Related Actions

Use A Car Wash

Washing your car can send harmful chemicals down storm drains not designed to filter water and from there chemicals and soap will get into our streams, bay and Gulf where they can harm marine creatures, plant life and water quality

Trash In The Trash

In a rainy place like the Gulf coast, litter and plastic debris is easily washed into storm drains and from there into our streams, bay and Gulf. Making sure our trash gets into trash cans to be processed by city services, helps keep our water clean.

Types of Pollution

When water rushes off hardened surfaces, erosion of sediments degrade water conditions and smother and disrupt seagrass growth and the habitat for benthic organisms they provide.

Compounds like oil, grease, and heavy metals take a long time to break down and threaten the health of both aquatic and human life.

Litter is not only unsightly, but it also causes a variety of problems to the ecosystem as it enters our waters where it is often is mistaken for food by fish and invertebrates.

Too much fertilizer, pet waste, and other nutrients in our water often lead to serious problems like lowering dissolved oxygen levels, preventing seagrass growth, and killing fish.

Disease-causing microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and other single-celled organisms, are referred to as pathogens, some, like Salmonella, cause human health problems.

While pesticides are designed to be toxic to certain organisms, they can often be harmful and kill other species in the marine system that are important for the entire ecosystem.