Plastic bags photo degrade which means that overtime they break down into smaller more toxic petrol-polymers. This eventually contaminates our soils and waterways. Also before plastic bags are dangerous to our sea life. Nearly 200 species of sea life including dolphins, whales, seals and sea turtles have died from eating plastic bags. Also did you know that less then 1% of all plastic bags are recyclable. Makes you wonder where all these plastic bags go.
In Florida, there is actually a law that was passed in 2008, banning the regulation or elimination of plastic, take out grocery bags from any retail establishment. Title 29, Chapter 403, Section 7033 of Florida law states: “Until such time that the Legislature adopts the recommendations of the [DEP], no local government, local governmental agency, or state government agency may enact any rule, regulation, or ordinance regarding use, disposition, sale, prohibition, restriction, or tax of such auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags.” The Florida DEP actually enacted guidelines for this law, but the state has been negligible in launching them.
Help reduce the use of plastic bags and use reusable fabric bags that are now being sold in many stores. Some stores, such as Whole Food Markets, even give you money off your bill for using a reusable bag. So save the environment and save some money at the same time.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Did you know that nearly 365,000 people a year move to Florida? That's a lot of people not to mention a lot of refuse. Unfortunately a lot of that garbage ends up on our beaches and in our oceans. During the 2005 International Coastal Cleanup in Florida, 25,090 volunteers came out to clean-up shorelines and waterways. Volunteers covered 1,525 miles, picking up 477,471 debris items that weighed 585,378 pounds. Among ICC participants in Florida were 234 divers, who removed 4,742 pounds of debris from below the water's surface. In total 907 debris items were retrieved from 19 miles of underwater area. Keeping in mind that this is only from a one day event!!!!! That is a staggering number and the problem is, it's not getting any better.
Beach litter such as plastic bottles, fishing line and sewage-related debris can pose health risks to visitors and can harm marine wildlife through ingestion and entanglement. It can also have an economic impact on local communities through lost tourism and fishing revenue and repeated clean-up costs. Monitoring marine litter is an important method of tracing and targeting the major sources - beach visitors, sewage, fishing and shipping.
What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is considered by some scientists to be a misnomer for the floating pile of garbage approximately the size of Texas which can be found between Oregon and the Hawaiian Islands, since it suggests that the epic amount of garbage may be manageable. Whatever it is called, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch represents an environmental disaster for the world's oceans, and it is often used to illustrate the need for conservation policies which take the ocean into account. When it was sampled in 2001, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch yielded six pounds (three kilograms) of plastic for every pound (half kilogram) of plankton in the water.The garbage patch formed and continues to exist because of ocean currents. The patch is not actually static in position, sometimes drifting into landmasses which have begun to resemble landfills. It moves with the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a high pressure zone of air which forces ocean surface currents to move in a slowly clockwise pattern, creating a whirlpool which sucks garbage from other parts of the ocean into the gyre. The high pressure zone is extremely stable, as it is caused by hot air from the equator cooling as it moves northwards. There are 5 such gyres around the world, the North Pacific Gyre, The South Pacific Gyre, the North Atlantic Gyre, the South Atlantic Gyre and the Indian Ocean Gyre. They are traditionally avoided by sailors and fishermen because they are devoid of wind and marine organisms.
The traditional avoidance of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre meant that the garbage slowly collecting there had accumulated immense volume by the time it began to be recognized. Most of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made from plastic, which does not biodegrade. Organic material and debris from other sources will eventually break down, but plastics do not, although they do break into smaller and smaller pieces as micro plastics or plastic soup, they will never truly disappear. Greenpeace estimated that approximately 10% of the plastics manufactured every year ultimately end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The environmental risks posed by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are multi-fold. To begin with, the area supports minimal marine life, because the garbage patch restricts the limited area of water which photosynthetic organisms can live in. Other marine life including birds, mammals, fish, and jellyfish also suffer because they mistake the garbage for food. The garbage also carries a hidden payload: oily toxins which have accumulated in the plastic floating on the surface of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These toxins appear to be absorbed and concentrated by the plastics, which are in turn eaten by unwitting animals.
Public awareness about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was increased in 2006, when a number of feature news articles on the subject were published. Some scientists fear that increased knowledge about the issue may be coming too late, as cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may be impossible. The issue does highlight the growing problem of garbage in the world's oceans, and it is hoped that awareness will drive consumers to reduce the amount of garbage they generate, as well as spurring international cooperation to address the problem.
British researchers believe that Microscopic particles of plastic could be poisoning the oceans. They report that small plastic pellets called "mermaids' tears", which are the result of industry and domestic waste, have spread across the world's seas. Plastics such as bottles, bags and even fishing line make its way into our waters. Sturdy and durable plastic does not bio-degrade, it only breaks down physically, and so persists in the environment for possibly hundreds of years. Scientists are concerned that these fragments will infiltrate the oceans food chains.
Dr Richard Thompson at the University of Plymouth is leading research into what happens when plastic breaks down in seawater and what effect it is having on the marine environment. In an experiment Scientists looked at the barnacle, the lugworm and the common amphipod or sand-hopper, and found that all three readily ingested plastic as they fed along the seabed. "These creatures are eaten by others along food chain," Dr Thompson explained. "It seems an inevitable consequence that it will pass along the food chain. There is the possibility that chemicals could be transferred from plastics to marine organisms."
With our oceans being littered everyday with harmful plastics our marine life continues to be at risk. Litter is not just a local problem but a global one that will impact future generations to come if we don't do something now.
Local authorities (and ultimately tax payers) bear the financial burden of cleaning beach litter. Local authorities, industry and coastal communities spend approximately millions of dollars a year to clean up beach litter in the United States alone. Although there are volunteer groups and non-for profit organizations that have cleanups, there is still a surplus of trash that needs to be picked up.
Nobody wants to visit a dirty beach! Annually the Florida alone has millions of tourist from the US and other countries. Recreation and tourism are particularly affected by the presence of sewage related debris (SRD) which suggests that surrounding waters may be contaminated by sewage. When people are aware of SRD (and broken glass etc), they may look elsewhere. This can have serious implications for a coastal community that depends on tourism. Florida’s beaches are a major draw to tourists and to have them filled with litter may result in loss of tourism and economical hardship for the local areas that count on the tourism.
In the UK, harbor authorities also have to pay to keep navigation channels free of litter - a survey of 42 harbor authorities reported that £26,100 is spent per year in some ports to clear fouled propellers and remove debris from the water (KIMO, 2000). In addition, millions of pounds of insurance claims are made every year as a direct result of damage caused by floating litter.
The United States is not the only country affected by this litter problem. For Example in England the fishing industry suffers lost earnings due to contamination of catches by litter, damage to fishing gear, and time and effort spent sorting debris from the catch. A survey of fishermen in Shetland found that 92% had caught debris in their nets, 69% have had their catch contaminated and 92% had snagged their nets on debris on the seabed. Commercial fishing interests can also be affected when fisheries resources are depleted by 'ghost fishing' where lost or abandoned nets and traps continue to capture target and non-target species. These nets can last for many years due to the persistent nature of plastic which most nets are now made of. Some estimates put the cost of marine litter to the fishing industry at over £23 million a year (Environment Agency, 2002). Fouled propellers and pierced hulls can also endanger human life if a vessel cannot return to port, or cannot steer to avoid collision.