An expert in the reusable bag industry says that if Americans would make the switch from plastic bags, the benefits to the environment would be more substantial than people realize.

Most people have a general idea about how using reusable shopping bags helps the environment, but one expert says that the government hasn’t gone far enough to show just how much it would help if people completely gave up plastic bags. “The feel good messages that are directed to consumers isn’t helping the situation,” he says. “What people need are the facts. For instance, most people don’t realize that most recycling facilities won’t even take plastic bags because they’re far too expensive to recycle. This fact alone contributes to the massive amount of plastic bags showing up in our environment.”

And he’s right. The Wall Street Journal says that only 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled worldwide. The remainder of them end up in landfills and the ocean. And considering that it takes anywhere from 15 to 1000 years for a single plastic bag to decompose, it creates a significant problem.

“It’s been estimated that American families go through $100 billion plastic bags a year, and the typical family uses between 350 and 500 of these harmful bags per year. Just imagine if people were aware of the harm they were doing, and switched to reusable shopping bags. The potential impact is astounding.”

And the monetary and environment costs are not truly appreciated. For example, California alone spends about $300 million a year cleaning up debris from its coastal land, and experts says that about 10 percent of that debris is made up of plastic bags. What’s more, just for the plastic bags that Americans use, it takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce them.

And the animal kingdom suffers, too. Experts agree that about 100 million birds and 100,000 turtles and other sea animals die each year of starvation. That’s because the animals believe the bags are food and eat them, which blocks their digestive tracks and causes them to die.

“We just want to get the word out,” says the expert. “It’s time to stop the soft messages and make people understand that by simply refusing to use plastic bags anymore, and instead carrying their own reusable shopping bags to stores, they can make an important difference in our world.”

Other countries are ahead of the game, he says. When Ireland imposed a tax on plastic bags, consumption was reduced by 90 percent, which reduced the amount of plastic bags used in that country by 1.08 million. And as more and more countries are banned these bags, the usage will continue to decrease.

“We’re happy to see the plastic bag bans that are being enacted in cities across the country,” says that expert. “Now, if people will simply take the important step of using reusable shopping bags every time they go into a store, we will begin to address the issue.”