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The “environmental debate,” a supposed clash of values and priorities, has raged on for years. We’ve recently experienced it in our small town: an editorial entitled “Save our plastic bags” was recently published as a response to a possible 10-cent statewide fee on disposable plastic bags. We’re all familiar with these disposable bags handed to us on each visit to the grocery store: It is estimated that the average American family consumes 60 of these bags in just three trips.
But what, exactly, is so terrible about plastic bags? Unfortunately, more than we realize. In 2008, 3,960,000 tons of plastic bags were created. Of the produced bags, 90 percent were discarded. These plastic bags don’t just disappear — they enter our landfills, waterways and oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage patch, a depository gyre in the Pacific Ocean, is now home to billions of pounds of floating trash. The oceanic landfill has grown to roughly two times larger than Texas, with much of its mass attributed to plastic waste.
Purely environmental concerns, however, are not at the top of most people’s priorities. It’s easy to put off thoughts of oceans and animals — but, unfortunately, it directly affects us as well. The plastic waste in the ocean is often consumed by fish and other marine life, leading to an increasing concentration of toxins in their meat. That’s bad news for us, the top predator: According to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, Americans consume roughly 4.8 billion pounds of seafood annually — a vast majority of which comes from the environment now polluted with millions of floating plastic. Biological magnification doesn’t just apply to seafood, either, it occurs in any meat that we consume. That’s a potential health crisis much more terrifying than the possible “icky germs” in unwashed reusable bags (and, by the way, reusable cloth bags are easy to wash or disinfect).
These are all large problems that are difficult to deal with or even think about. However, we are not the only ones who feel that reducing plastic bag use would be beneficial. Ninety California cities and counties and cities have banned or passed a fee on plastic bag use (including our neighbors in South Lake Tahoe).
Although this adjustment will undoubtedly be difficult, it will be worth it. Change isn’t always bad — in discouraging plastic bag use, we encourage the prospect of bringing our children and grandchildren successful and healthy lives within the (only) world we have.
JOEL HEICHMAN, ELISABETH SUNSERI, JETT HAGERTY, KATILYN FLY