New Report: Groups call for ban on plastic bags

By Volcano Staff on November 17, 2011


Sadly, during the holiday season, the sight of tumbling plastic bags is more common. A transfer of gifts and a gust of wind can send A bag down the street and worse, high into a tree. That's just one scenario. There are worse.

Many major metropolises, including one of the first - San Francisco - banned retailers from giving their customers plastic bags to carry their goods.

Yet the war on plastic bags is only beginning. As critics point out, the bags are terrible for the environment. They're made from fossil fuels. Animals choke on them. They create unnecessary litter and linger in landfills forever, as it takes them 1,000 years to degrade. Environmental activists want to make them a historical relic.

Today, Environment Washington was joined by the Surfrider Foundation to draw attention to the growing threat of plastics in Puget Sound. Environment Washington's new report, Keeping Plastic Out of Puget Sound: Why Washington Should Join the Global Movement to Reduce Plastic Bag Pollution, is not only a very long title, but also the first of its kind, bringing together new and unpublished research about the serious problem of plastic pollution in the Sound and its impact on wildlife.

"Nothing we use for a few minutes should end up in the belly of a whale," said Robb Krehbiel, program associate for Environment Washington, in a news release. "We should ban plastic bags to protect Puget Sound wildlife."

Take a gander at the news release, including how the University of Washington Tacoma is involved:

Key findings from the report include:

  • On Protection Island, a wildlife sanctuary in the Straight of Juan de Fuca, scientists from the Port Townsend Marine Science center found that more than one in ten gulls were eating plastic.
  • Scientists from UW Tacoma have found small pieces of plastic in every water sample they have taken in Puget Sound.
  • Washingtonians use over two billion plastic bags every year. Olympia uses 200 million. Only 6% of plastic bags are recycled nationwide.
  • At least twenty countries and more than 50 local governments in the United States have banned disposable plastic bags. In the Pacific Northwest, Bellingham, Edmonds and Portland have banned plastic bags.

Julie Masura from the University of Washington Tacoma's Center for Urban Waters has researched plastic debris in Puget Sound over the last eighteen months. "Every environmental sample I have collected from surface waters and beach sediment has contained a form of plastic," said Masura. She said that researchers are now focused on figuring out how the plastic enters the Sound.

"Our Plastics Study showed that plastic particles are everywhere in our marine environment," said Ann Murphy, Executive Director of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.  "We must do something to reduce plastic waste and stop polluting the diets and nests of marine creatures. Once we take this step we will wonder why it took us so long."

The groups stated that in order to reduce plastic pollution, cities and counties in Washington should ban disposable plastic bags. At a city council meeting on Tuesday, November 1st, the Olympia City Council committed to work with Thurston County to find a solution to plastic bag pollution.

"For many of us the ocean is our playground, our sanctuary," said Shannon Serrano of the Surfrider Foundation. "Something so unnecessary is threatening the place we play. This is why we care and this is why we are taking action in hopes to ban single use plastic bags."

Environment Washington and the Surfrider Foundation have been working to gain support in Olympia for a bag ban.  Thus far, the groups have gathered hundreds of public comments, and the campaign has been endorsed by more than 70 businesses. 

Seattle, Lake Forest Park, and Mukilteo are also actively pursuing a ban on disposable plastic bags.  "As the capital city, Olympia should serve as a model steward of Puget Sound," said Krehbiel.  "To protect orcas, seals, and salmon, we must lead the state by banning disposable plastic bags."