Plastic Bag Facts

The City of Salem joins 46 (and counting) other cities and municipalities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in banning plastic bags. Read the Draft Legislation here.

There is a proposal for a statewide ban.

Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes.

  • We (Americans) use ~100 billion plastic shopping bags each year. The estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion.
  • A single plastic bag has the life expectancy of 1,000 years.
  • It’s estimated that only 1-3% of plastic bags are recycled annually.
  • With exposure to UV rays and the ocean environment, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. The majority of the plastic found in the ocean are tiny pieces less than 1 cm. Plastic debris attract and concentrate toxic chemicals from the surrounding seawater, and when consumed by marine animals, the toxins endanger both the creatures that ingest them and humans higher up on the food chain.
  • Marine wildlife often mistake plastic bags for food, especially sea turtles hunting jellyfish. High amounts of plastic material, especially plastic bags, have been found blocking the breathing passages and stomachs of many marine species, including whales, dolphins, seals, puffins, and turtles.

Art in Action

Students from around the world participated in the 2016 Ocean Awareness Student Contest, an annual interdisciplinary contest hosted by Boston-based Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs. These students focused on plastic bag pollution and its impact on marine wildlife.

Plastic Bag Pollution Resources


Watch a leatherback sea turtle chow down on its favorite dinner: jellyfish. A team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution captured this “turtle’s eye view” while studying the endangered animals off Cape Cod.


Plastic Bag Pollution in the News

> Paper or plastic? Our ongoing love affair with plastic shopping bags has environmental consequences.
> Whale found dying off coast of Norway with 30 plastic bags in its stomach 
> Plastic you can drink: A solution for pollution?