05/25/2012 03:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2012

Table Talk: Moving Toward A Plastic-Bag-Free World

This week's Family Dinner Table Talk, from HuffPost and The Family Dinner book:

When you’re out shopping, and you haven’t brought your own bag with you, using a plastic one can be convenient. It’s easy to think: What does it matter if I do it just this once? I’ll bring my own bag next time. I can reuse this one later.

But millions of people all over the world use plastic bags every day -- many without recycling them at all. We're not sure exactly how long it takes for plastic bags to break down, but estimates range from 500 to 1,000 years. If we go with the lower estimate, that’s still more than six times the average human life expectancy in the U.S. The bags you use today might well be around when your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren are raising their kids.

The good news for plastic bag opponents is that more and more places around the world are banning the disposable carriers. In the U.S., San Francisco got the ball rolling by passing a plastic bag ban in 2007; single-use plastic bags have been banned throughout Italy since the beginning of 2011. And just this week, the Los Angeles City Council voted in favor of a brand-new ban -- making LA the 49th California city to do so. The ban looks set to start taking effect in a matter of months. (Click over to BBC to get more information about plastic bag bans around the world.)

When San Francisco passed its ban five years ago, The New York Times reported that “estimates of the number of plastic bags used around the world each year vary wildly -- from 100 billion to as many as one trillion.”

While LA’s ban is progress for those who long to see a plastic-bag-free world, there’s clearly still a tremendous amount of ground to cover. Even if your town or city doesn’t have a ban right now, you can make a difference by bringing reusable bags to the supermarket and encouraging those around you to do the same. Talk to family and friends about how you can work for change in your community –- and help improve the world for yourself and future generations.

Questions for discussion:
  • Do you normally ask for plastic bags at the supermarket? How can you cut down on the plastic you use in your daily life?
  • Why doesn’t every city have a plastic bag ban?
  • How can you take Los Angeles’s victory and make something similar happen in your community?
  • What can you do to reuse or recycle plastic bags you already have?

In her new cookbook, The Family Dinner, Laurie David talks about the importance of families making a ritual of sitting down to dinner together, and how family dinners offer a great opportunity for meaningful discussions about the day's news. "Dinner," she says, "is as much about digestible conversation as it is about delicious food."

We couldn't agree more. So HuffPost has joined with Laurie and every Friday afternoon, just in time for dinner, our editors highlight one of the most compelling news stories of the week -- stories that will spark a lively discussion among the whole family.