Plastic Soup

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Although Honduran law states that all plastic brought to Roatan must be removed from the island, Roatan’s coast is awash with a toxic “plastic soup.” Plastic bags are used for an average of just 20 minutes before being dumped, and can take centuries to rot. Millions spread like urban tumbleweed through towns before ending up in the sea. Plastic waste in the oceans kills around 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and other large animals each year. An estimated one million seabirds also die from strangulation, choking or starvation after eating seaborne plastic. Once an afflicted animal’s body has rotted, the bag is released back into the sea, to kill again and again.

The sheer volume of plastic in Roatan’s waters is appalling. It is an utter disgrace. People have often fought over fishing rights, claiming “ownership” over popular fishing grounds, but when it comes to protecting marine wildlife from plastic pollution, people’s sense of ownership and responsibility mysteriously fades. Isn’t it our responsibility to prevent these animals from becoming the victims of our careless, plastic bag culture? After all, there are perfectly adequate substitutes.

Pilot studies in the UK have successfully demonstrated that society CAN flourish without plastic bags. Major British supermarket chains have launched a “bags for life” policy. These are replaced free of charge by the store when they wear out and recycled. And it’s not just developed nations: In India people can now be jailed for seven years just for carrying a plastic bag.

Where major corporations have taken the initiative, it has encouraged millions of people to change their behavior. This initiative could easily be applied here too. It is absolutely vital that we urge all stores to act responsibly, possibly introducing a small charge for plastic bags. However, we as consumers must also change our attitude – bring our own bag! It is time to break the carrier bag habit. It’s not difficult, it’s not painful, but it IS responsible.