This year alone, Americans will throw away over 100 billion plastic bags. Nearly all plastic bags are made from polyethylene (a petroleum bi-product) and to make 100 billion plastic bags takes nearly 12 million barrels of oil. 12 million barrels of oil can be refined to nearly 240 million gallons of gasoline. And polyethylene bags take nearly 1000 years to break down into their toxic components. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, there is an average of 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean on the planet. Paper bags take over 4 times as much energy to produce as plastic bags and require about 85 times as much energy to recycle.
At a cost of over 1 penny per bag, Americans are wasting over $1 billion dollars per year. Buying reusable shopping bags eliminates this economic and environmental calamity with a one-time cost of anywhere from $2 for cheap bags to designer bags costing as much as $900 dollars. PlanetFlahive.com is selling hemp shopping bags for $18. Hemp produces about 3 times as much fiber per acre as cotton without the use of pesticides; and while cotton is known for stripping the land of nutrients, hemp naturally fertilizes the soil for future crops. In addition, the cultivation of hemp takes about 100 days whereas cotton trees take between 50 and 70 years to reach full maturity.
Using trash cans unlined with plastic bags take only 1 minute to wash out after dumping!
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Salvador’s Coffee House in southwest China uses 38, 30-watt incandescent light bulbs in its daily operations. These light bulbs cost about 1 RMB ($.13) each and last for an average of 3 weeks. 5 of the 38 lights are on for an average of 5 hours, using about 750 watt-hours per day. The other 33 lights are on for an average of 16 hours, using about 15,840 watt-hours per day. So in total, these lights use about 16,590 watt-hours, or 16.59 kilowatt-hours (kWh), per day. At .63 RMB per kWh, lighting the 38 bulbs costs about 10.5 RMB per day, 314 RMB per month, 3,800 RMB ($506) per year. 5-watt compact florescent lights (CFLs) cost about 10 RMB ($1.33) each, can last as long as 7 years, and can replace the 38 incandescent bulbs producing nearly the same luminescence and quality of light. By doing so, the daily electricity consumed by these 38 bulbs is cut down to about 2.77 kWh per day, cutting the daily costs down to 1.74 RMB. This saves our business 3,165 RMB ($422) per year.
According to the American Lighting Association, lights account for 25 percent of household electric bills. This year, Ireland became the 1st country in history to pass legislation banning the normal incandescent light bulb, thus promoting the longer-lasting, energy-efficient fluorescents.
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Starbucks goes through over 2.3 billion paper cups per year. The average paper cup with lid, graphics, and stirrer comes to about $0.15 per cup. For those who drink a cup a day, they will burn through over $50 per year on non-biodegradable waste. In 2003, Starbucks began offering a 10 cent discount to those who bring their own mugs or take-away reusable cups. This encouraged about 13.5 million customers to bring in their own mugs, thus saving about 586,800 pounds of paper from going to US landfills. Starbucks could save an estimated $1 million per year in packaging costs by encouraging the use of reusable cups and plates.
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The average bite of food in America has traveled nearly 1,500 miles. Most foods are transported in semi-tractor trailers that have a maximum capacity of 40,000 pounds according to US law. 40,000 pounds of food is 640,000 bites assuming 1 bite to be equivalent to 1 ounce. A semi-tractor trailer gets an average of about 5.5 miles per gallon, fully loaded. Traveling 1,500 miles at full capacity would burn about 272 gallons of diesel (roughly 34,900 ounces). So that means that every 18 bites of food are chased down with a shot of diesel. At 3.3 dollars per gallon of diesel, shopping locally can save American consumers about 1 penny for every 7 bites.
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In a small town in Sicily, refuse disposal has recently shifted from small garbage trucks, which cost around $150,000, to donkey-carts, which cost $1,000. Whereas operational costs for the trucks cost around $12,000 per year, it only costs $3,000 per year to feed the donkey. To equal the amount of exhaust created from 1 garbage truck, 1 donkey would have to have some serious digestive issues.
McKibben, Bill. Carbon’s New Math. National Geographic. October, 2007. Pp. 33-37.
BBC News. December 7.
Flahive, Colin. Issue 2 – The Tickle Me Elmo Equation. Simple Mathematics. December, 2006. www.simple-mathematics.com.
Weekly Retail On-Highway Diesel Prices. Energy Information Administration. December 17, 2007.
The Throwaway Generation: 25 Billion Styrofoam Cups a Year. The Environmental Magazine. November-December, 2005.
How Much Do Compact Fluorescent Bulbs Really Cost? Get Rich Slowly. October 29, 2007.
Plastic Bags, the Convenient Sack That Never Goes Away. Practical Environmentalist. August 10, 2007.
Drowning in a Sea of Plastic Bags. School of Natural Resources and Environment. Fall, 2007.
Our View on the Environment: Plastic-Bag Ban Full of Holes. USA Today. April 7, 2007.