Plastic tide threatens Sound
A movement to ban plastic bags that harm fish and other wildlife in Long Island Sound is slowly gaining traction along Connecticut’s shoreline.
Towns from the New York border to Stonington are considering bans on plastic bags — the type grocery stores and other retailers hand out daily, as well as plastic straws and other products. But so far, only Greenwich and Westport have banned plastic bags.
Similar bans are being considered in Stamford, Norwalk, Newtown, Waterford and Mansfield, to name a few.
“It’s become common in the ecosystem,” said Bill Lucey, the Long Island Soundkeeper, 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 a 100 years.”
The Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport recently banned banned plastic straws and is now using only biodegradable food containers.
“Single-use plastics are a source of land and sea pollution that cause the death of birds, marine mammals and sea turtles,” said Gregg Dancho, the zoo director. “We’re proud of the first steps we’ve taken to be part of the solution.”
In Massachusetts, 81 cities and towns have regulated plastic bags, either imposing a five or 10 cent fee per bag or banning them outright.
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.
“Plastic bags are ingested by sea turtles; it gets stuck in their stomach,” Lucey said. “A fin whale in the Mediterranean Sea that recently died had 50 pounds of plastic in its stomach.”
Lucey noted dozens of species in Long Island Sound are threatened.
“There is a whole range of impacts, from big animals to micro feeders,” Lucey said.
“We are working to define the problem and find solutions,” Lucey added. “You can bring your own shopping bag to the store. There are technologies that can be put in sewer plants. Another solution is banning bags and straws.”
A bill before the legislature last year sought to slap a five cent fee on plastic bags to discourage use. The legislation moved out of one committee but was not put up for a vote in the Senate or House.
’Straws and bags’
The National Park Service estimates that Americans throw away 500 million single use plastic straws every day — enough to fill 46,444 school buses.
The United Nations says 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans each year.
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.
Robert Burg with the Long Island Sound Study, an arm of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said the volume of plastic in the Sound is startling.
“We do cleanups along Long Island Sound and last year in one day we took 18,000 pounds of debris off the shore,” Burg said.
“The top items collected were cigarette butts, which have plastic in them, plastic stirrers, straws and grocery bags,” Burg said.
“Clearly the evidence exists that plastic is being found on the shore, and its coming from the shoreline as opposed to ocean currents,” Burg added.
The Connecticut River, which winds throughout New England, is also a major source of plastic, along with other rivers that enter the Sound, Burg said.
The Long Island Sound Study has begun a public awareness campaign to alert people to the growing problem of plastic.
“The campaign is focusing on not using single use material and to use reusable,” Burg said.
Both Lucey and Burg said it’s not known how much plastic is in the Sound and along it’s shores, although studies are under way to find out.
“We really have no feel for the volume,” Lucey said. “The EPA does not have a protocol. But a lot of people are looking at it.”
Lucey said the solution comes down to a choice between the convenience of plastic bags and the effort involved in bringing a reusable bag to a grocery store.
“People have to determine what the value is to have clean water,” Lucey said.