Billions of plastic bags: what's the social cost?

California retailers give out about 12 billion plastic bags a year. Here's where they come from, and where they go.

Industry: About 75 percent of the nation's plastic sacks are made domestically, according to bag makers. California has several factories.

Landfill space: Plastic carryout bags account for about 0.4 percent, by weight, of landfill waste.

Litter: Plastic bags make up about a quarter of the waste, by weight, that gets caught in sewers, according to a 2004 Los Angeles study. In 2008, plastic bags were about 6 percent of the items found in California beach cleanups. Statewide, the annual cost of litter cleanup (for all litter, not just plastic bags) is about $300 million.

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