Single-Use Abuse by Marjorie Preston

In 2011, Brigantine City Council unanimously approved a resolution encouraging residents to stop using single-use plastic bags. You know the ones I mean — the bags you get when you buy a quart of milk or a candy bar at the Wawa or dollar store. Most of them are used just once, for the few minutes it takes to take that item home. Then they’re discarded. But they’re never lost. Remember, these bags look flimsy, but they were built to last. They will endure for hundreds and hundreds of years, creating ever larger landfills, polluting our oceans, and harming our sealife.

Brigantine stopped short of an official ban. But we’re already halfway there. Many stores including our local Acme encourage reusable bags for shopping. I see fellow shoppers every day with tote bags and other reusable carryalls. I think the majority of residents and visitors support the idea of keeping plastic bags out of our backyards and off our beaches, and would support an official ban if it did not cause too much inconvenience. Let’s face it, we’ll have to get used to carrying our own bags. This inconvenience is minor and momentary. And isn’t it worth it to help keep our beaches clean and our waters free of litter that is virtually indestructible?

San Jose, California,  banned single-use plastic bags in 2012. According to a February article in the New York Times, since then plastic-bag litter in storm drains, which can contribute to flooding, has fallen by 89 percent. That same article says more than 150 communities across the country have enacted some kind of anti-bag laws.

It’s Brigantine’s turn. When this island community moves to ban single-use plastic bags, we’ll have bragging rights; we’ll be the first community in the Garden State to really take a stand against accumulating tons of useless trash. As the home of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, this is our issue to claim. The MMSC has rescued and rehabilitated thousands of marine animals since its founding in 1978; its technicians have seen the damage done by plastic bags to the environment and our wildlife.

The High Price of ‘Convenience’

Not persuaded yet? According to the Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastic program:

• The amount of plastic produced from 2000 to 2010 exceeds the amount produced during the entire last century. And this pile of plastic junk will accumulate exponentially. Remember, the tons we discard this year will be added to the tons we discarded last year. None of it is going away. Plastic is not biodegradable.
• Plastic is the most common type of marine litter worldwide.
• In 2009, about 3.8 million tons of waste plastic “bags, sacks and wraps” were generated in the United States — but only 9.4 percent was recycled.
• Cleanup of plastic bags is pricy. Public agencies spend more than $300 million annually in litter cleanup.
• It is estimated that Americans go through about 100 billion plastic bags a year, or 360 bags per year for every man, woman and child in the country.

Here’s a statistic of my own: In about seven months, during daily walks around Brigantine, I gathered 231 bags. Here’s a picture of my granddaughter surrounded by piles of plastic bags. Remember, these bags will still be around when she’s my age. They will still be around when her granddaughter and great-granddaughter walk the beaches of South Jersey.

If I attempt to recycle these bags, most of them will go to landfills. I believe people of good will, including those in the chemical industry that creates and profits from these bags, should work together to solve the problem, for all of our sakes, and for the sake of our kids and grandkids.

I urge the officials of the city of Brigantine to make this beautiful island the next community to prohibit single-use plastic bags, or limit them in some way, perhaps by charging a tariff to use them. It’s not an onerous idea, and no one would be unduly inconvenienced by a fee; I’m sure people would get with the program fast, and start carrying reusable bags.

We’ve already accumulated millions of tons of this trash. We can’t easily get rid of it, but we can stop adding to the problem. It’s time to ban the bags in Brig. What we do now will help protect our precious resources now and in the future.

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Do you want to ban plastic bags in Brigantine? Help us raise awareness and take action:
– attend a Brigantine City Council meeting and express your support for a bag ban
– take a photo of a ‘free-range bag’ in Brigantine, post it to social media, and hashtag #BagItBrig
– educate your neighbors about issues caused by plastics
– email chair@southjersey.surfrider.org to volunteer