Bay blighted by bags
By Allison Chan, Policy Intern
It’s a sunny weekend morning and you decide to head out to do some hiking along the Bay shoreline. As you stroll through the brush and marshlands, you commune with nature, you enjoy the sprawling bay views… and you encounter scattered plastic bags wedged between rocks and clinging to vegetation?
Oh yes. Plastic bag pollution is a growing threat to Bay habitat and wildlife. In 2008, Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers in the Bay Area removed over 184 tons of waste from the Bay, including over 26,000 plastic bags! Plastic bags are among the most harmful, ubiquitous and preventable types of pollution. Not only does this pollution smother wetlands and harm wildlife, it negatively impacts our recreational experience in and around the Bay. Isn’t it time we took a stand against plastic bag pollution?
To address this growing problem and to encourage Bay area cities and residents to find a solution, today Save The Bay launched its fourth annual list of Bay Trash Hot Spots. Using data collected by volunteers during last year’s Coastal Cleanup Day, we have listed the ten sites where the most plastic bags were removed. On just one single day, volunteers picked up anywhere from 384 bags at Ryder Park in San Mateo County to a staggering 7,497 bags at the Albany-Berkeley-Emeryville shoreline in Alameda County. But I’m sure most of us agree that one bag in the Bay is a bag too many.
It’s time to really do something about plastic bag litter and pollution. For the past 15 years, California has made a concerted effort to promote plastic bag recycling, but with disappointing results. Less than five percent are actually recycled. Plastic bag recycling is cost-prohibitive because there is no market for the plastic film and it is difficult for recycling machinery to handle effectively. And, due to the amazing aerodynamics of plastic bags, even those destined for a recycling plant are easily rerouted by gusts of wind into the streets and, ultimately, into the Bay.
So, what to do? The solution is actually very simple. First and foremost, kick your bag habit! Find some snazzy reusable bags and keep them in your car, in your purse, or by the front door. Second, help round up the bags floating around right now by participating in Coastal Cleanup Day this Saturday, September 19th. I think most of us can squeeze in a few hours to help protect Bay wildlife and make our next experience on the Bay more enjoyable. Finally, speak up! Tell your mayor to support legislation to ban the distribution of free plastic and paper bags. The more cities that reduce plastic bag pollution flowing to the Bay, the healthier our natural treasure will be.
Check out our interactive website to see a map of this year’s Hot Spots, photos, video and how to help.