Monday, April 10, 2017

Paper, Plastic, or Neither?

By Nate Lukas, Save The Bay Advocacy Intern

Choosing the material your shopping bags are made out of may be of greater importance than mere personal preference. Plastic bags and other plastic products such as straws, plastic bottles, facial scrub beads, take-out containers, fishing line, and even polyester clothing are just a few examples of the plastic waste that makes its way into aquatic habitats. This plastic debris does more than just cause aesthetic issues; it causes a serious concern for ecosystem health and food chain stability in our aquatic environments.

This plastic bag looks like a jellyfish lunch to
this unsuspecting turtle.
At this moment, you may be visualizing whole plastic objects suspended in the currents and yes, this is certainly sometimes the case. However, did you know that the majority of plastic found in aquatic environments is microscopic? You may have heard about the pacific garbage patch, but rather than being just one, there are actually six or seven major garbage gyres located throughout the Earth’s oceans. Furthermore, this garbage cannot be seen with the naked eye, but rather it is a dense collection of degrading micro-plastic that at one time existed as tons of disposed plastic materials. Various species of plankton and fish feed on this micro-plastic, and this accumulation of chemicals becomes magnified as it goes up the food chain in a process known as bio-magnification, all the way to the fish we eat! Birds will also collect these bits of plastic thinking they are food, which they will then bring back to their young.
A reusable bag reduces the need for paper
or plastic resources, energy to manufacture
those products, and the risk of pollution!
This imbalance is something that we as consumers have the power to change. When deciding at the grocery store whether to take another single-use plastic or paper bag, perhaps consider bringing reusable bags or containers. Bringing your own reusable bags to the store may not seem as convenient as simply accepting what is available at that moment, but this simple change in behavior can go a long way toward protecting aquatic critters in our ponds, bays, and oceans.
Plastic is an amazing invention and it has countless important uses. However, we need to be wary of how much we use by reducing our reliance on new plastics, reusing plastics whenever possible, and recycling the rest. By making this change, we can “bag” this pollution problem and save our aquatic friends!