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AboutTheBag.com

Environmental Impacts

© Whale Rescue Team Each year approximately six billion single use plastic carryout bags are consumed in the County of Los Angeles, the equivalent of 600 bags per person per year.[1] Plastic bag litter makes up as much as 25 percent of the litter stream and significantly impacts our communities and the environment.[2] In the County of Los Angeles alone, local and State governments spend tens of millions of dollars each year on prevention, cleanup, and enforcement activities to reduce litter.[3] Although single use plastic carryout bags are inexpensive and have some useful qualities, they can also be harmful to the environment when littered. Due to their expansive and lightweight characteristics, littered single use plastic bags are easily carried airborne by wind, where they end up entangled in brush, tossed around along freeways, and caught on fences.[4]
In addition, within the County's extensive and diverse watersheds, many littered single use plastic carryout bags find their way onto local beaches and eventually into the ocean, where they have been known to impact marine life that ingest them in the following unintended ways:

  • Clogging the throat, thus choking the animal.
  • Artificially filling the stomach so that the animal cannot consume food, depriving them of nutrients.
  • Infecting them with harmful toxins that can poison the animal.
  • Entangling the animal, leading to choking, cuts, and even restricting growth.

© NOAA National Ocean Service
Whales and large birds often swallow plastic carryout bags inadvertently during feeding, which become permanently lodged in the stomach.  Turtles swallow plastic carryout bags since they resemble their main food source, jellyfish.[5,6,7,8] Recent studies indicate that littered plastics such as single use plastic carryout bags can transport, adsorb, and when ingested by animals, lead to the bioaccumulation of a variety of persistent organic pollutants. Marine animals that inadvertently ingest single use plastic carryout bags and other plastics are therefore subjected to numerous potential health impacts. In addition, plastic bags can smother coral, restricting growth and destroying the natural habitats of many different species of marine wildlife.[9,10] 

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008Single use plastic carryout bags also affect domestic land animals, such as cows, goats, and horses, which occasionally eat plastic carryout bags found on the ground or entangled in brush.  Single use plastic bag litter is found to have similar undesirable health impacts on these animals.[11,12]

The North Pacific Gyre is an area located roughly 1,000 miles from the California coast line, where several ocean circular currents meet, creating an accumulation of marine debris, especially plastics.  Since plastics do not biodegrade, they often accumulate in the Gyre from multiple northern Pacific Rim countries.[13]






  1. California Integrated Waste Management Board, Resolution, Agenda Item 14, June 12, 2007 Board Meeting. Countywide figure is prorated.
  2. City of Los Angeles. 18 June 2004. Characterization of Urban Litter. Prepared by: Ad Hoc Committee on Los Angeles River and Watershed Protection Division. Los Angeles, CA.
  3. Los Angeles County Municipal Storm Water Permit (Order 01-182) Individual Annual Report Form. Rep. no. NPDES No. CAS 004001. Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, n.d. Web. 6 Aug. 2013. Available at: http://ladpw.org/wmd/npdesrsa/annualreport/2012/Appendix%20D%20-%20Principal%20Permittee%20Annual%20Report/Individual%20Annual%20Report%20(County).pdf
  4. California Department of Transportation. Accessed on: September 2009. “Facts at a Glance.” Don’t Trash California.
  5. Holley, Denise. “Plastic bags are littering all parts of the county.” Nogales International [Nogales, AZ] 19 Feb. 2010. 19 Jan. 2011.
    http://www.nogalesinternational.com/articles/2010/02/19/news/doc4b7ebb4468b13171075507.txt
  6. Bugoni, L., L. Krause, and M.V. Petry. 2001. “Marine Debris and Human Impacts on Sea Turtles in Southern Brazil.” In Marine Pollution Bulletin 42: 1330-1334. Print.
  7. Moore, C.J., S.L. Moore, S.B. Weisberg, G.L. Lattin, and A.F. Zellers. October 2002. “A Comparison of Neustonic Plastic and Zooplankton Abundance in Southern California’s Coastal Waters.” In Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44 (10): 1035-1038.
  8. “Leatherback Sea Turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, Endangered.” State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. 19 Jan. 2011.
    http://www.ct.gov/Dep/cwp/view.asp?a=2723&q=326028&depNav_GID=1655
  9. “Marine Debris Impacts.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. 10 Jan. 2011.
    http://www.epa.gov/owow/oceans/debris/md_impacts.html
  10. “Corals, Anthropogenic Threats to Coral.” NOAA’s National Ocean Service. 1 Jul. 2007. 26 Jan. 2011.
    www.nos.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral09_humanthreats.html
  11. “Govt Declares War on Plastic Peril.” The Times of India, Jaipur. 22 Apr. 2010.
    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/jaipur/Govt-declares-war-on-plastic-peril-/articleshow/5841972.cms
  12. Krulwich, Robert. “India Cow Killer Bagged, but Deaths Continue.” Prod. Jessica Goldstein. All Things Considered. National Public Radio (NPR). New York, NY. June 8, 2008.
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91310904
  13. Thompson, R. C. (2004-05-07). “Lost at Sea: Where Is All the Plastic?,”. Science 304 (5672): 843.

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