Did you know that each year approximately 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide? According to a study in Waste Management, this would amount to about one million bags used each minute around the world. Although these statistics are immense, the most astonishing part is that only 1% of plastic bags produced are recycled in the U.S. More specifically, according to the Plastic Ocean Project, UNC-Wilmington research students found that 1 out of every 7 items taken out of the ocean was a form of plastic film off the shore of Cape Lookout in North Carolina.
Furthermore, plastic takes about 500 to 1,000 years to degrade and the majority of those plastics are found in our oceans. Specifically, Ecowatch reports that plastic makes up about 90 percent of trash floating in our oceans and that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic found per square mile.
To think that the one plastic bag you brought your groceries home in could strangle a sea turtle to death or block a seabird’s digestion path is incredibly disheartening. Humans often do not think about the impact our actions have after we have completed them, and using immense amounts of plastic each year is one action we must terminate. The plastics we use contribute to the deaths of 100,000 marine animals a year from plastic entanglement and to the one million seabirds that die each year from plastic ingestion.
Evidently, plastic is an increasingly problematic issue for not only our country, but our world. States and cities across the nation are beginning to realize the severity of the matter and have taken steps to prevent the pollution. For example, according to Wired, the plastic bag ban in San Jose led to an 89 percent reduction in the use of plastic bags, while in D.C. the 5-cent tax led to a 60 percent reduction. Furthermore, according to the Washington Post, the bag tax has contributed more than 10 million dollars since 2010 to the Anacostia Clean-Up and Protection Fund. This reduction in the use of plastic bags has also contributed to a reduction in the amount of plastic bags floating in our oceans and killing our marine life.
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Karen Fitzgerald, president of the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles, voiced that “unfortunately for many sea turtles and other marine wildlife, they see balloons, plastic bags and other debris as food and ingest them, causing digestive blockage, which can lead to death”. She goes on to discuss that, “circumstantially our volunteers have noticed fewer bags on the beach during their regular patrols...If anything, the plastic bag ban has certainly made a better beach-going experience by reducing their presence.” As Fitzgerald concluded, the Outer Banks plastic bag ban was very effective in reducing the presence of plastic bags littered on beaches and floating in the ocean.
Although bag taxes and bans have been proven to reduce the number of plastic bags used, North Carolina representatives seem to believe this movement is not worth the effort.
State representatives Beverly Boswell, John Bell, John Bradford and senators Andrew Brock, Norman Sanderson, Bill Cook and Andy Wells essentially are dragging North Carolina backwards by sponsoring Senate Bill 434, which would repeal the plastic bag ban in the Outer Banks. The law to ban plastic bags was put in place to protect North Carolina’s coastal environment and ensure that the tourism industry does not decline as a result of the eyesore that plastic pollution on beaches produces.
Although Senate Bill 434 is on the road to success, there are other viable solutions that the public can achieve to help reduce plastic pollution. First, ensure that your legislator is in support of the plastic bag ban and not Senate Bill 434. However, if your legislator is in support of Senate Bill 434, write a letter to that legislator detailing why the plastic bag ban is beneficial to not only the Outer Banks, but all of our beaches and oceans. Additionally, refuse the use of single-use plastics. Instead of using the plastic bags provided at the grocery store, bring reusable bags so your plastic bags don’t end up strangling a sea turtle. Instead of buying cases of plastic water bottles, buy a reusable one. Instead of using plastic utensils, bring your own utensils from home. These all may seem like small actions, but they add up quickly and contribute to helping save our oceans from destruction and our marine life from death.
Courtney Close is a rising sophomore at Elon University studying communications and environmental studies.