The Ziploc bag, an SC Johnson invention seems perfectly tailored to fit an American’s on-the-go life. We grab them to save time, and yet we put little time into understanding their environmental effects. Most Americans do not even see Ziploc bags as reusable items; our use for Ziplocs is finished when our food is. Yet the effects Ziploc bags have are far from gone when our food is.

According to a study done by the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2011 the United States recycled only 11% of all plastics used. According to the United Kingdom Marine Conservation Society, plastic bags take 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and as they decompose they release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If plastic bags end up in water, they will turn into a bio-toxin called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBS), which in turn enters into the fish and plants that humans eat. Plastic bags can be recycled at an even slower rate than they decompose, and bags that contained food cannot be recycled. Plastic bags kill sea turtles, who mistake them for jellyfish, kill birds, who are strangled by them, and block sewers, leading to flooding.

SC Johnson, whose motto is: “A Family Company,” understands the negative effects of Ziploc bags. SC Johnson launched their SC Johnson Greenlist initiative to increase transparency about their products and increase awareness of the dangers of one-time Ziploc bag use. Since 2000, SC Johnson decreased factory greenhouse gas emissions by 51.7% and their global manufacturing waste by 76%. They have partnered with GfK Roper Consulting to increase environmental knowledge, and they launched a “Family Home Blog” to increase awareness of environmentally-friendly choices consumers can make (including reusing their Ziploc bags).

While there is room for growth, SC Johnson does what it can to reduce the environmental impacts of the Ziploc bags sold. The rest of the work is left up to the consumer. Instead of simply throwing Ziploc bags away, we should reuse them. Ziploc bags can be washed with water and soap and are strong enough to withstand the dishwasher sixteen times. We can also replace Ziploc bags with re-usable dishes or cloth bags.

As Americans, we have a tendency to see ourselves as primarily consumers: using something until it serves its purpose and then throwing it away. But what if, instead of consumers, we saw ourselves as co-inhibiters of Earth? What if we rethought our idea of trash, of how quickly we consume and throw things away? Using Ziploc bags is not a crime, but what we do with them after one use says more about who we are than what we use them for ever will.

By Brooke Bonnema