, Gloucester, MA


March 27, 2013

Letter: Manchester bag question an important step

To the editor:

On Monday, April 1, residents in Manchester-by-the-Sea will vote on whether to ban disposable plastic grocery bags.

The proposal is strongly supported by the Board of Selectmen, and would follow in the footsteps of Brookline’s ban last November, as well as dozens of other cities and towns across the country, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, and our own Nantucket, which has protected its shores with bag ban in place since 1990.

Bans on plastic grocery bags are sweeping the country in response to the growing evidence about the impact of plastic bags on our marine environment. Plastics kill millions of marine animals each year through entanglement and ingestion. 85% of all sea turtles, for example, will be affected or killed by plastics in their lifetimes, including the endangered leatherback turtles which summer in Massachusetts Bay before migrating to the tropics to mate.

While plastic never biodegrades, it does break apart into increasingly small fragments, accumulating in the marine environment and picking up and concentrating toxic substances in the water – up to 1,000,000 times the concentration of PCBs than the water around it. In parts of the ocean, there are as many as 6 pounds of plastic fragments for every pound of plankton. Filter feeders such as whales and clams are particularly vulnerable to these tiny, toxic plastic bits.

A plastic bag ban is a simple and effective solution to a problem plaguing our oceans. Americans use over 100 billion bags – that’s 300 bags per person per year. Each of those bags is used for an average of 12 minutes, but has a life expectancy estimated at more than 1,000 years. And because bags catch the wind so easily, even if they’re thrown away properly they blow off trucks and landfills and often end up in the ocean.

During the 2011 International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers collected 120,450 pounds of bags in the United States. In Massachusetts alone, volunteers collected 5,712 pounds of plastic bags, one of the top five most common forms of litter found.

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