This week, a Cuvier beaked whale washed ashore in the Philippines with more than 40 kilos of plastic found in its stomach – the United Nations says 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans each year.
It’s proof the harm of plastics isn’t going away.
The state finally acted on a single-use plastic bag ban this week – the Environment Committee voted in favor of a bill that would ban the sale of single-use plastic bags starting in 2020, but stores would still be allowed to offer customers recyclable paper bags.
Stores that do not comply, according to the bill’s language, will be issued a warning on the first violation; after that a store would be fined $250 for a second and any subsequent violations.
More than 20 communities in Connecticut have passed plastic bag bans, joining neighboring states like Massachusetts, where 81 cities and towns have regulated plastic bags, either imposing a five or 10 cent fee per bag or banning them outright.
Recently, supermarket chain Big Y, which has 30 stores in Connecticut, announced it will phase-out single-use plastic bags in its stores by next year. National chains Costco and Aldi, which both have stores in Connecticut, already do not provide free single-use plastic bags.
A statewide ban on single-use plastic bags has been a top priority for environmental groups, and reaction to the panel’s plastic bag bill was mixed, drawing partial applause from environmental groups only because, like Amanda Schoen, deputy director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, said of the committee’s action, “it’s a really big step forward.”
The Citizens Campaign for the Environment said a plastic bag is used for an average of only 12 minutes but can remain in oceans, landfills, parks and on beaches for thousands of years.
Bill Lucey, the Long Island Soundkeeper, told the Connecticut Post last August that “it’s become common in the ecosystem,” referring to plastic bags and other products. “It’s coming into the Sound from the shoreline and from rivers,” Lucey said. “This stuff can last for ... years.”
Along with banning plastic bags, the state can and should do more, including begin thinking about a ban on plastic straws.
If it did, it would follow in the footsteps of the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport that recently banned plastic straws and is now using only biodegradable food containers.
Lucey has seen the volume of plastic in Long Island Sound first-hand. He said boats towing a special net routinely pull up shellfish with plastic microfibers inside them.
Activists say plastic, whether in the form of a bag, bottle, straw or microfiber that slips through sewage treatment plants, causes severe damage to animals such as clams, fish, birds, turtles and seals.
Banning plastic bags is a great start, but we have a long way to go to cut down on plastic pollution.