Five trillion, that's the estimates number of plastic bags produced worldwide each year. Let me repeat that number: five trillion. That's close to a thousand bags for each person on the planet, and that's wreaking environmental havoc says this woman, with the World Watch Institute in Washington, ï¿½So we're seeing in some countries, South Africa for example, where at one point the plastic bag was called the national flag because essentially the bags would just get tossed outside and then they'd get stuck to trees or fences.ï¿½ The bags are also ending up in rivers or oceans where they're strangling and suffocating wildlife. Stray bags in Africa collect water and then become breeding sites for mosquitoes. Another problem is that plastic bags don't biodegrade. Plastic comes from crude oil, natural gas, or other petrol oil derivatives. The World Watch Institute official says the plastic can stay in the marine environment for millions of years, ï¿½the plastic will no longer take the shape of a bag, but it'll break down into smaller and smaller particles which can be swallowed by even the smallest of sea creatures.ï¿½ At least half a dozen African nations have banned plastic bags. Ireland and Germany began taxing plastic bags in 2002. the tax is working. Plastic bag use in Ireland has fallen by some 95%. But not everyone thinks taxing or banning plastic bags is the way to go. ï¿½It's a knee jerk reaction to a liter problem,ï¿½ this man directs the Plastics Business at the global consultancy firm, Chemical Market Associates, ï¿½it's not the material itself, it's the way we use the bag and dispose of the bag that's become an issue.ï¿½ He says the reason plastic bags are so ubiquitous is because they're a good product: they're light, they're strong and they're cheap. And plastic bags can be recycled and reused. In fact it takes 98% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than a pound of paper. All in all, he says plastic bags are a lot more energy efficient and use a lot fewer resources than paper bags, ï¿½If you were to visualize a stack of a thousand plastic bags and then put a stack of a thousand paper grocery bags next to it, the paper bags would go from almost floor to ceiling and the plastic bags would be about a foot high.ï¿½ Plastic versus paper is no longer the debate at a growing number of stores. Their answer is reusable cloth. Bring your own bag. That sounds logical, but short of a government mandate, it can be difficult to get people to change their behavior. Using environmental guilt? Not so effective. But making cloth bags cool, that might work. Last Spring, a European designer released a limited edition canvas bag with the phrase, ï¿½I'm not a plastic bagï¿½ stitched on the side. In Taiwan hundreds of shoppers scramble to get their hands on one of the new, hip bags. People also lined up for hours to get a bag in London, Milan, New York and Los Angeles. At the end of the day, only 20,000 cloth bags were sold, but the larger purpose was served: the publicity and the excitement got more people to think about giving up those ubiquitous plastic bags.