The return of a research ship investigating the build-up of plastics and other man-made products in a huge area of the Pacific Ocean known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” brought more evidence that a ban on plastic bags has become an urgent necessity.
Plastic bags are ubiquitous — rarely recycled, aerodynamic, cheap to produce, usually given away.
San Francisco banned plastic bags in 2007 — leading to a surge in fabric bags, which have gained currency at stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in Santa Cruz County. Or you can make your own.
Here’s the Sentinel Editorial on banning plastic bags:
“The accumulation of plastic debris in the ocean cannot continue.
This means that public policies will have to change regarding single-use plastic products, such as bags used for carrying groceries and other items.
While the efforts to ban plastic bags have been around for a while, consider the news this week about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” — an ocean area 1,000 miles west of California that is said to be twice the size of Texas where plastic debris has been carried by currents.
Scientists from the Project Kaisei, a 151-foot research ship that has just returned from the garbage patch, said they were alarmed by the vast amounts of tiny, confetti-like pieces of plastic they found in water samples along their journey. The closer they got to the patch, the more plastic debris they found.
One researcher described their findings as a “man-made epidemic.” In addition to the build-up of garbage, crews found that the food chain is being contaminated by the bits of plastic that can contain toxic chemicals and absorb dangerous, and banned, chemicals. They found that tiny jellyfish have been eating the debris. The jellyfish are eaten by fish, which eventually become food for people.
Plastic bags are only part of the problem. But they also are a product that can be easily banned.
Americans throw away an estimated 100 billion plastic bags a year. Only about 2 percent are recycled.
Since the bags are made from petroleum or natural gas, this is the equivalent of dumping 12 million barrels of oil, according to scientists.
For the few bags that are recycled, their landfill life could last for centuries — if they weren’t carried away in the wind, to litter parks, streets and beaches.
The bags can clog storm drains, eventually making their way to the ocean … and the garbage patch.
Last week, a coalition of local government officials, business leaders and environmentalists met at West Marine, a Watsonville-based boating supply corporation, to discuss how to reduce or eliminate plastic bags.
The consensus opinion was that a ban is the best solution. Such a ban would be akin to polices that have outlawed polystyrene in Santa Cruz County.
The plastics industry argues that the bags are a convenience item and that banning them will end up costing consumers, who would have to buy reusable bags or use paper products. Local governments are concerned the industry would sue to overturn a ban.
The effort to reduce the toxic garbage situation in the ocean will have to start locally. The timing is overdue to ban plastic bags.”