Don’t be shellfish and keep plastic bags out of our ocean

by Caitlin Johnson

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I love the turtles from Disney’s “Finding Nemo.” There’s something liberating about the way they move in the water. I also enjoy their cool surfer bro lingo. Plus, they don’t worry about trash and plastic bags contaminating their home and ruining their backside roundhouse it’s because they’re fictional and fictional stories always have happy endings.

Unfortunately, in the real world, we can’t say the same. Trash ends up in the ocean, sometimes unseen, negatively impacting the surrounding environment. Luckily, San Diegans are the “go green” type and individuals are already taking action to reverse the damage to our aquatic neighbors.

On Aug. 9 Solana Beach became the first city in San Diego County to outlaw the distribution of single-use plastic bags at grocery stores. Con- sumers must also pay a 10 cent fee per paper bag they use. Revenue from the cost of the paper bags will be kept and used by retailers. According to the U-T San Diego, the law stems from similar initiatives already put into place in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Monica.

Although this ban isn’t unique, it sparked controversy throughout the county. Some people feel the govern- ment is taking away their rights. Why shouldn’t we be able to answer the question, “Paper or plastic?” Well folks, I hate to say it, but it all comes down to taking responsibility for our actions. Yes, there are those of us who do properly dispose of our plastic bags after reusing them, but the sad part is, most of us don’t.

Have you ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It’s just what the name implies: a massive, man- made island of garbage and waste floating in the Pacific Ocean, not far from our own coastline. The majority — about 80 percent according to San Diego Coastkeeper — comes directly from land and is made up of consumer products such as food packaging, bottles, plastic foam and plastic bags. While you may be diligently recycling your bags, it’s obvious many people aren’t.

The worst part is plastic never actually disintegrates. Exposure to sunlight simply breaks it into microscopic particles, which are then ingested by microbes. Slightly larger organisms eat those microbes and are in turn are eaten by larger animals, such as fish and shrimp. Keep going up the food chain and you can see why this is a problem on a much larger scale. Soon, the food we eat won’t be much different from its plastic container.

We don’t like it when the govern- ment holds our hand. But this issue goes beyond our trips to the grocery store. This affects not only our own land and beaches, but the entire world. The health of the planet is a global responsibility and we need to stop being selfish about what we want for the sake of convenience. The plastic bag ban is the result of ignoring the problem for too long. It’s not a nefarious government plot to take away our liberty one reusable grocery bag at a time. By working together to replace plastic bags, we take a more responsible stewardship of the ocean and guarantee clean beaches we can all enojoy.

There are already incentives in place for consumers who use biodegradable multi-use bags. Most retailers offer a 5 cent refund per bag, which doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up each time you make a trip to the store. I am not a “save the oceans” fanatic, but I like the idea of going to the beach without worrying about whether it is unhealthy.

The first step to change begins at home; in this case, more than any other. San Diego is called “America’s finest city” and it is our responsibility to keep it that way. We should be proud to be facilitators of change. We have to learn the lesson Squirt and his dad learned long ago: If we don’t make some sacrifices now to protect the big blue, we’ll all suffer in the long run.

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