Legislature Marks Earth Day by Advancing Ban on Plastic BagsBOSTON – On Monday, April 22, the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, held a special hearing on proposals to ban plastic carryout bags. They immediately voted to advance the bill, taking this critical first step. The bill will now move forward and could face a final vote within the next few weeks.Plastic bags have been singled out as a one of the most visible and dangerous types of litter. The bags take up to 1000 years to degrade, and when they do, they break up into smaller and smaller bits, never going away. They are deadly to wildlife, which mistake them for food or become entangled in them. Turtles, whales, seals, birds, and fish are the most susceptible to ingesting them, suffering a painful death as the plastic wraps around their intestines or they choke to death. Some animal species, already threatened due to issues such as overfishing or habitat loss, could face extinction.Plastic bags also don’t biodegrade; they simply break into ever smaller plastic bits, never disappearing from our environment. These small bits, known as micro-plastics, attract toxins and carcinogens, which eventually enter the food chain, and displace food supplies in the world’s oceans.“Like urban tumbleweeds, plastic bags end up airborne in trees, clogging storm drains and polluting our oceans. Every time we utilize a plastic bag we are contributing to leaving our planet worse for the generations that will follow us,” said State Representative Lori A. Ehrlich, (D-Marblehead), the lead sponsor of H696 “This legislation will put Massachusetts on the map as a beacon for responsible consumer behavior and environmental stewardship.”“Over 380 billion plastic bags are used every year by Americans, and only about 5 percent are recycled. The widespread use of plastic bags has serious consequences for the environment: littering our coastlines, using up the equivalent of billions of gallons of petroleum and killing millions of animals every year. It’s time to ban this dangerous product and encourage the use of more sustainable alternatives,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton).“This is a major step in the right direction for Massachusetts. With this ban, we would become one of the leaders among governments acting to protect the world we live in. We don’t have to accept plastic bags choking our oceans, rivers, birds, and animals. We can start being part of the solution,” stated Representative Denise Provost (D-Somerville).Reps. Ehrlich, Provost, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge each sponsored similar bills to ban plastic bags.Numerous cities and countries around the world have enacted plastic bag bans. In fact, Nantucket, Massachussetts was one of the first in the world, enacted over 20 years ago. In the last year, Brookline and Manchester-by-the-Sea joined with their own plastic bag bans. Every county in Hawaii has passed a ban, but passage of this bill would make Massachusetts the first state to pass a statewide ban.This bill would ban single use plastic bags from chains and large stores and would require paper bags to be comprised of recycled material. Many grocery stores have already implemented these policies, so this would not have a significant impact.The Massachusetts Sierra Club and other public interest organizations have been attempting to pass statewide legislation to ban plastic bags. “Public support for banning bags is overwhelming,” said Phil Sego of the Sierra Club. “Readily available sustainable substitutes make banning plastic bags a common-sense policy to protect the environment.”“Nothing we use for five minutes should harm our oceans for generations to come,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment Massachusetts. “It’s time to say goodbye to the plastic bag.”Also testifying in favor of a ban were Women Working for Oceans (W2O), Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Brookline Town Meeting Member Clint Richmond.Article submitted for publication to the Boston Globe by The Sierra Club
W2O Co Founder, Barbara Burgess and three other W2O Board members headed to the Boston State House today to testify to our State Legislature’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in support of the Plastic Bag Reduction Bill #696. What better to way to honor Earth Day than to stand up for what we believe in to protect our oceans by stating our views on the pollution and harmful effects to human health by those aerodynamic plastic bags choking our waterways, strangling our marine life and ending up in all of us. W2O joined The Sierra Club, Environmental America and other groups in support of the bill put forth by Democrat Massachusetts Representative of the 8th Essex District, Lori Ehrlich.
Some reminders of the issues at hand and a link to how you can help!
- PLASTIC IS FOREVER (still ringing in my ears from our “Plastics in the Oceans, Plastics in You event and eloquently put by Dianna Cohen from Plastic Pollution Coalition-plastic breaks down into tiny bits that are ingested by our fish and wildlife and then in turn is ingested by us and IT NEVER GOES AWAY
- Plastic clogs our waterways, costs municipalities in clean up efforts, and end up in our oceans, collecting in huge gyres that can never be cleaned up
- “Biodegradable” doesn’t exist when speaking of plastic (bags or any kind) and companies that tell you that their bag is going to “break down” are not telling you the science. In order for a bag to decompose, it needs the perfect conditions of sun, heat and lack of moisture. Most bags are in our trees, landfills and waterways and are not basking in the sun for hundreds of days waiting to break down. Just refuse plastic bags!
Act now! Use this link to the Sierra Clubs easy guide and Write your legislator and Protect What YOU Love!
I am inspired by a current Rhode Island School of Design art exhibit that is called simply, “Lists.” The show presents lists from artists that were written in great detail before and during a project or artistic journey. When I attended the W2O event, “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” today I was struck by how much effort it must have taken Scientist Randi Rotjan and underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen to mount the PIPA expeditions for the New England Aquarium. This is a “List” worthy, massive artistic and scientific undertaking. Along with other scientists and photographers, Randi and Kieth kept lists and double checked to make sure that only the most necessary equipment took the trip on the relatively small vessel that travels 5 days at sea from Fiji to reach the remote Phoenix Islands and the Island Nation of Kanton. And these last details only after years of planning, fund raising, researching and coordinating with other conservation organization. The time, effort and expense are well worth the results and revelation that come from exploring the islands, learning about the small community living on them and studying this laboratory of intact coral reef system and ocean marine life. The area is now free of commercial fishing and damaging habitat destruction and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the deepest and largest World Heritage site on Earth.
Today’s event, “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” was magical in image, informative in content and inspiring to all of us. Our take away “Action” today: Please put ocean protection on your “philanthropic dance card” and support the PIPA project.
I caught the ending of an interesting program today on NPR that explained and questioned the labeling of fish by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). I see the labels in Whole Foods and other retail outlets and have always just taken for granted that the label was a signal to me that what I was purchasing was “sustainable.” I am like you-I want to do the right thing and buy fish that are not endangered or in decline. I also want to support fisheries that care about sustaining species of fish for their own livelihood and our culinary enjoyment. The labeling of fish by the MSC seems like a great idea but doesn’t always fulfill the promise of sustainability.
Unilever, one of the largest producers of frozen fish, and The World Wildlife Fund devised the MSC labeling at the height of the Atlantic Cod decline in the 90s. “The MSC does not certify fisheries itself. Instead, a fishery that wants the label hires one of roughly a dozen commercial auditing companies to decide whether its practices comply with the MSC’s definition of “sustainable.” Sounds like a wonderful idea….
The comment that struck me as I listened today made my heart sink; ( I won’t get the quote just right and can’t find it anywhere in the article) “When you buy swordfish for dinner are you ok with the fact that three sharks were caught along with it?” The sharks caught are usually release but the stress causes many of them to die anyway. My taste for my favorite fish suddenly makes me not hungry. “This touches on one of MSC’s three fundamental rules, even though studies show swordfish are plentiful. The second rule says that a fishery is not sustainable if it does not maintain “the integrity of ecosystems” — which means, in part, that it’s not sustainable if there is too much by-catch,” says Steve Campana, who runs the Canadian government’s Shark Research Laboratory, near Halifax, Nova Scotia.
MSC has engaged the interest of the public by contracting with big companies such as Walmart and Target, which are drivers of change for sure-so maybe this is a good thing for some that are just starting their journey about caring for our fish and oceans. If labeling is done well, we should rejoice that this system has become popular. But this consumer is now concerned that she doesn’t know enough to trust what she reads and will be questioning labels and doing some more research on this important topic.
The big new today, of course, is not new news at all. We are all feeling the effects of climate change and thankfully it is a “hot” (pun intended) topic in the press. Graphs and headlines that show that 2012 was the hottest ever on record are scary but hopefully will squelch the skepticism that still exists about whether or not our own actions are contributing to last year’s extreme heat and drought. Scientists are convinced that last year’s record temps are caused by “natural variability but “many of them express doubt that such a striking new record would have been set without the backdrop of global warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases” (NY Times 1/9/13).
Tucked away in the Op-Ed section of the NY Times Thomas Friedman makes the analogy that we need to “tap the breaks” on climate change because we are “driving towards a cliff in a fog.” I won’t get political here but we all know that a cliff is a cliff and we can’t go over it-whether financially or environmentally. Mr. Friedman puts it eloquently: “Indeed we are actually taunting the two most powerful and merciless forces on the planet, the market and Mother Nature, at the same time. We’re essentially saying to both of them: “Hey, what’ve you got, baby? No interest rate rises? A little bitty temperature increase? Thats all you’ve got? I just hope we get our act tougher before the market and Mother Nature each show us what they’ve got.”
My favorite New Years quote (NYTimes 12/28) comes from Dr. Frank Convery, an economist at the University of Dublin, and refers to the strides made by Ireland to reduce their overwhelming fiscal deficit while creating low carbon emissions with the introduction of a carbon footprint tax. By introducing the tax and changing behavior, Ireland has reduced its emission by 15% since 2008. Dr Convery: “You don’t want to waste a good crisis to do what we should be doing anyway.”
Seems like every day there is a new reason to discuss climate change. In this Boston Globe article, Hurricane Sandy reminds us that Climate Change is a National Issue that has been overlooked during this years election campaigns. If you want to hear more about Climate Change, come to to this months Lecture Series at the New England Aquarium. Our civic leaders won’t talk about Climate Change unless we demand that they do. By educating ourselves about the topic we can encourage conversation and action.
The New York Times today gives us information from every prominent scientific organization on climate that now is the time to pay attention to the signs of warming in our oceans. This article, primarily about the decline of the ice in the Arctic, talks about the significance of the ice melt as a catalyst for trapping the sun’s heat as the white of the ice is replaced with the dark ocean, in turn, melting more ice. Research scientist at The Snow and Ice Center, Walt Meier, says that “the Arctic is the earth’s air-conditioner” and that “it’s not just the polar bears might go extinct, or that the native communities might have to adapt, which we’re already seeing-there are larger climate effects.” Dr. James E. Hansen, a prominent NASA climate scientist, warns that “the scientific community realizes that we have a planetary emergency.” Time for all of us to take emergency action by reducing “human release of greenhouse gases” and take responsibility for the part we all play in this scenario.
Women Working for Oceans wants you to know about the importance of the Plastic Free Campus program from Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Women Working for Ocean’s (W2O) March talk “Plastics in the Ocean, Plastic in You”, powerfully presented by Dianna Cohen, artist and co-founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC), inspired an avalanche of ongoing behavior change here in M.A. We learned so much from Dianna and PPC and we are thrilled with the initiatives in our communities and schools that have taken root because of their guidance.
PPC continues to make major strides in its work towards a world free of plastic pollution. PPC’s project, Plastic Free Campuses, has been short-listed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a grant, and several other organizations have expressed their commitment to support the program.
Currently, PPC is raising funds for the kick off of the next phase of Plastic Free Campuses: 1500 campuses around the world working to reduce their plastic footprint. It is a great time to support their work. There are all levels of giving that make a huge impact on the success of this program.
Please use the links below and consider supporting the great work of this organization! They are making our oceans a healthier place for generations to come.
Here in M.A. we are blessed to live near the ocean and we enjoy and depend upon it as a gift of food and recreation. That is why the difficult conversation about pollution should be on every residents lips this week. And, of course, one of the biggest culprits of pollution here in M.A. and across the country is single use plastic. It is difficult to change our habits regarding this problem but there is one solution that I think we can all agree on-carrying reusable bags to the grocery store.
Massachusetts has the opportunity to join countries around the world in reducing plastics that pollute our oceans and are ingested by the fish and wildlife that we eat. Join us by taking action and spreading the word about the Massachusetts Plastic Bag Reduction Bill (http://www.malegislature.gov/Bills/187/House/H01990 and http://www.malegislature.gov/Bills/187/Senate/S00353).
If passed, Massachusetts would be the first state in the United States to pass a bill that takes a strong stand and spreads an important message about this crucial topic that effects people around the globe, including all of us right here in Massachusetts.
- REFUSE (the fourth “R” of Reuse, Recycle, Reduce) purchasing and using single use plastics
- Become a member of W2O by signing up on our website: womenworkingforoceans.org
- Write to your legislator and tell her or him how important the Mass. Plastic Bag Reduction is to you and why.
To find your legislator: http://www.malegislature.gov/people/findmylegislator and type in your town’s name.
Here is a sample letter for your use:
Dear Representative ,
I am writing to you today in support of Representative Lori Ehlrich’s (Marblehead) initiative of the Massachusetts Plastic Bag Reduction Bill: http://www.malegislature.gov/Bills/187/House/H01990 and http://www.malegislature.gov/Bills/187/Senate/S00353
As a constituent of __________, I am increasingly concerned about the amount of single use plastic that clogs our waterways, streams, finally collecting in our oceans, polluting our marine life and ingested by the seafood that we serve our families. As a Massachusetts resident, I am concerned about the impact of single use plastic on our ocean economy of fisheries, tourism, recreational water sports, and ocean transport systems. Like many countries and communities around the world, we can reduce the plastic pollution that ends up in our oceans and food by using reusable non plastic grocery bags. Please support the Massachusetts Plastic Bag Reduction Bill.
Please include your contact details including your address.