Plastic 
Life Cycle of Products


Production

Plastic bags are made from crude oil, which is first heated to release ethylene gas.  From there, the oil is converted to polyethylene, which is a gelatinous substance that is used to make the bags.  Five trillion plastic bags are produced each year, which accounts for .2% of the earth's oil consumption each year.  This may not seem like a lot of oil, but it takes 12 million barrels of oil just to make enough plastic bags for America!  Most plastic bags are produced overseas, so more gasoline and energy is needed to ship the bags to the United States.
What happens next?

After the plastic bag is shipped to stores worldwide, they are used by a consumer for an average of 20 minutes before discarded.  The average consumer uses 250 to 500 plastic bags per year!  According to the Wall Street Journal, only 1% of plastic bags are recycled each year.  If they are recycled, they must be shipped to a recycling center.  The cost to recycle plastic bags far outweighs their value and for this reason many recycling facilities do not accept them.

If the bag is not recycled, it is thrown away.  It can end up in landfills, trees, rivers, beaches, and the ocean.  In the ocean, plastic photodegrades and kills many animals because it is mistaken for food.  See.  Each year, public agencies in California spend over $300 million to clean up beaches littered with plastic bags.  What's worse, plastic bags can have a lifespan of up to 1000 years!
Think about it: Over a lifetime, if a person used reusable bags, he could save around 22,000 plastic bags!  So what's the use of plastic bags?  With all the time, energy, and resources wasted on their production and consumption, reusable bags are the only smart option.
At right:
A machine struggle through a plastic bag landfill.
Sources: Ehow.com, reusethisbag.com, suite101.com