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(Enemy of the Environment)

environmental issues So much has been written about the use of the plastic bag that I feel like I'm covering old ground. The plastic bag is probably one of the worst items there is for the environment. Especially the marine environment. Today I would like to give you further information on just how plastic bags affect the environment and why we need to stop using them.

Here is the problem. 500 billion plastic bags are used world wide and only a small fraction are recycled. Their life is short. They are used for a few minutes from store to home and then thrown away. Now when we say 'thrown away' the bag really does not go away. Plastic bags can last up to a 1000 years in a landfill. They end up becoming tiny toxic particles in the soil and water.

In our marine environment it is an enormous problem. The plastic bag is not biodegradable and as a result is a threat to marine animals. If a larger animal eats a smaller animal that has swallowed the bag the second animal is at risk of choking on the plastic. Now if that animal dies in the water its body decomposes and the plastic is released back into the water where it can continue to kill.

At risk are whales, seals and turtles. In the ocean these bags seem to take on a life of their own. The floating bag resembles food to hungry marine life such as the turtle who commonly mistake them for a jellyfish. Once a turtle swallows a plastic bag it gets trapped in the gastric tube not allowing any other food to go down. This results in starvation. Turtles do not have anyway to regurgitate what they have swallowed. They have downward facing spines in their throats that prevent the bag from coming out.

environmental issues Enviromental organizations suggest that about 1 million animals are killed every year due to plastic bags. To make it worse they estimate that there is an average of 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of the ocean. WOW! This is truly disturbing.

Keep in mind that it is not only marine animals that are threatened. Birds and insects are also vulnerable by bags carried by the wind.

As a diver and resident of St. Maarten for over 30 years I can attest to the fact that the plastic bag is a problem here on our Island. On many occasions I have seen the plastic bag entangled on our coral reefs, floating in the ocean and of course washed up on our shoreline. So what are the alternatives? In parts of India, China, South Africa and Taiwan these countries have already instituted either a complete or partial ban on plastic bags. 30 rural Alaskan villages and towns have banned plastic bags. San Francisco and Oakland, California have followed suit. Unfortunately if you think that switching to the use of paper bags is the solution, its not. In 1999, 14 million trees where cut down to make 10 billion grocery bags. The shipping and production of these bags contributes to global warming and air pollution.

The best alternative is reusable bags. If you can't afford one, bring a bag from home that you can reuse.

Keep in mind if you buy one soda or a banana or a bottle of water you don't need a bag for this.

Here in St. Maarten we need to say 'NO TO THE PLASTIC BAG'!