A couple of interesting and related events occurred in November 2014. They are interesting because they had opposite results. Massachusetts voters decided not to require a deposit for plastic bottles such as bottled water, as occurs for other beverages including soda. The beverage industry spent millions of dollars to defeat it as they have done in previous similar campaigns. This approach was a little different this time. They argued that a bottle bill was an antiquated way of dealing with the mounting problem of litter and solid waste disposal. They said that curbside pickups that take the bottles to regional recycling centers would be a better way of addressing the problem. Unfortunately these centers do not exist in most communities and it is unlikely that they will appear in the near future. Meanwhile the problem is getting worse and once again, the coastline and wetlands are being trashed by the accumulation of plastic.
The other event is that the town of Falmouth at its town meeting voted to ban single use plastic bags within its borders. All plastic bags used by retail establishments including restaurants must be phased out within 18 months of the vote. Fines ranging from $50 for a first offense up to $200 for additional violations will be levied against the guilty party. Falmouth joins Provincetown as the only towns on Cape Cod that have banned plastic bags.
The other communities need to pass similar laws. The negative impact of plastic in the ocean has been documented for many years. Efforts to protect endangered sea life such as turtles will be enhanced if we can reduce the number of plastic bags entering coastal waters. Plastic can entangle and choke marine birds, reptiles, and mammals. It’s difficult to find a road, highway, or beach that doesn’t have a plastic litter problem. Many of these bags end up in the ocean, float for miles around, and remain for several years. These oceanic death traps continue their path of destruction throughout the coastal region.
It’s great to assume that we will reuse all these plastic products such as bottles and bags, but how many are actually recycled? I read one estimate that stated only 5 percent of plastic bags is recycled. Another way of looking at that statistic is that 95 percent are not recycled. Those numbers suggest that we need to reduce our consumption of plastic, not assume that everything is being recycled. You don’t have to look far to see that this solid waste problem is getting worse and is harming the marine environment.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.