Bags by the Numbers

Each disposable shopping bag is typically used for less than an hour.

Plastic Bag Consumption

  • Year that plastic grocery bags were introduced at supermarkets1: 1977
  • Estimated number of plastic bags used each year, world-wide2: 4,000,000,000,000
  • Number of plastic shopping bags used each year, in the US alone3: 14,000,000,000
  • Percentage of plastic bags returned for recycling2: 1
  • Annual cost to US retailers for giving away "free" bags: $4,000,000,000
  • Barrels of oil required for US annual plastic bag consumption4: 12,000,000
  • Number of marine animals killed each year due to plastic bags5: 100,000
  • Average number of pieces of plastic in each square mile of ocean6: 46,000
Paper Bag Consumption

  • Number of paper bags consumed each year, in the US alone7: 10,000,000,000
  • Number of trees cut down for paper bag consumption, in the US7: 14,000,000
Plastic Bags vs. Paper Bags

Plastic bag production creates less waste than paper. However, plastic bags remain with us for a long, long time.

  • Percentage energy savings in making plastics bags, rather than paper bags: 40
  • Percentage in air pollution reduction from making plastic bags: 50
  • Percentage of waste water reduced by making plastic bags: 94
  • Number of years for a plastic bag to biodegrade as litter: 20
  • Number of months for a paper bag to biodegrade as litter: 1
  • Estimated number of years for a plastic bag to biodegrade in a landfill: 1,000
  • Number of years for a paper bag to biodegrade in a landfill: centuries
Plastic Bag Tax in Ireland

Charging for shopping bags dramatically reduces bag consumption.

  • Percentage of litter in Ireland due to plastic bags, before bag tax: 5
  • Percentage drop in plastic bag consumption in Ireland, after 15-cent bag tax introduced: 90
  • Annual revenue generated by Irish bag tax: �10,000,000 Reduce, reuse, rejoice!
  • Number of plastic bags prevented by the Irish bag tax, annually: 1,000,000,000
The choice is clear: Carry your own bag.


  1. Great Moments in Plastic Bag History. Film and Bag Federation.
  2. Plastic Bags: A Necessary Eyesore? Worldwatch Institute.
  3. Sack Tax? ABC News. December 9, 2003.
  4. Reusable Bags Tackle Plastic Bag Mess. Organic Trade Association.
  5. Sea Turtles Don't Shop. Earth Resource Foundation.
  6. Keep the Sea Plastic Free-Bin It. Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Heritage.
  7. Paper or Plastic?. Healthwell. March, 2002.
  8. Paper vs. Plastic Bags. Franklin and Associates. 1990.
  9. Litter Facts. City of San Jose, CA.
  10. Leave No Trace. US Bureau of Land Management.
  11. Irish Take Lead with Plastic Bag Levy. MSNBC. August 4, 2003.
  12. Irish Bag Tax Hailed Success. BBC News. August 20, 2002.

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