Bellingham and Seattle may be heading in the right direction banning the use of plastic bags in grocery stores, charging for paper bags, and incentivizing shoppers to bring in their reusable bags, but the truth is that about 100 billion plastic shopping bags are still being thrown away each year in America. According to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency, only 13% of these bags are actually recycled. Where do the rest go? You can find them resting in those lovely landfills or flying away in the wind to eventually litter our beaches and swim around in the ocean. All this litter isn’t just an eye sore – it’s killing wildlife.
Cutting down on the use of plastic grocery bags is a start to fixing this problem, but what about the billions of plastic bags already out there? Researchers at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center through the University of Illinois have found a great second use, other than carry our groceries home. Since shopping bags are composed of petroleum, researchers have found a way to convert these bags into natural gas, diesel, and other petroleum products. Not only this, but the process is highly efficient in that it generates more energy than it takes to convert the plastic bag into fuel or other petroleum products.
In my Marketing Sustainability class, we’ve been talking about how instead of designing products to be immediately discarded after a one time use, there needs to be a shift towards designing products to have a second life. Kudos to the researchers at the University of Illinois for working on creating a second life for these pesky plastic bags we, as consumers, have not acted responsibly with.