The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Silent Killers: The Danger of Plastic Bags to Marine Life
By Laura Beans
"Paper or plastic?" was once the inquiry of bag-boys in supermarkets around the country. But a growing conscience concerning the frivolous abuse of single-use plastic grocery bags has finally taken hold in the U.S. Around the world, from Australia to Ireland, communities have been enacting bag bans for almost a decade.
The first plastic sandwich bags were introduced in 1957. Department stores and supermarket chains started using plastic shopping bags in the late 1970s. The recycling of plastic bags began in 1990, but by 1996 four out of five grocery bags in the U.S. were thin, single-use, polyethylene bags. More than 1 billion single-use plastic bags are given out free of charge everyday. In 2009 the U.S. International Trade Commission reported that 102 billion plastic bags were used in the U.S.
Plastic bags never biodegrade, but they do breakdown. As they do so, any toxic additives they contain—including flame retardants, antimicrobials and plasticizers—will be released into the environment. Many of these chemicals may disrupt the endocrine system—the delicately balanced set of hormones and glands that affect virtually every organ and cell in the bodies of humans and animals.
Plastic bags are especially harmful to marine animals, and are one of the most common garbage items on California’s beaches according to the Los Angeles Times. Most starts out as litter on beaches, streets and sidewalks. Stormwater runoff and overwatering flushes them through storm drains or directly to creeks, streams and rivers that lead to the ocean.
In marine environments, many animals confuse the plastic littering the oceans for food, including sea turtles. One in three leatherback sea turtles have plastic in their stomach, most often a plastic bag, based on a study of over 370 autopsies. Once in these animals bodies the plastic bioaccumulates, and the chemicals can cause excess estrogen to be produced, which has led to discoveries of male fish with female sex organs. For sea turtles, the plastic blocks their digestive tract and the food that is trapped releases gases that render them buoyant, and unable to dive for food.
A group based in Mexico, Global Ban Now, is raising public awareness of the issue with the release of their short video, Silent Killers. The video was created after a member discovered a sea turtle close to death off the coast of La Paz, Mexico. The sick turtle was brought to a facility in La Paz, where it was discovered that she was slowly starving because a single-use plastic bag, which she had eaten, was blocking her digestive tract. The turtle was kept for a couple of weeks, the plastic was removed and she was released back to the sea.
Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Bijal Trivedi
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on Nov. 13 that describes a list of microorganisms that have become resistant to antibiotics and pose a serious threat to public health. Each year these so-called superbugs cause more than 2.8 million infections in the U.S. and kill more than 35,000 people.
By Joe Vukovich
Under the guise of responding to consumer complaints that today's energy- and water-efficient dishwashers take too long, the Department of Energy has proposed creating a new class of dishwashers that wouldn't be subject to any water or energy efficiency standards at all. The move would not only undermine three decades of progress for consumers and the environment, it is based on serious distortions of fact regarding today's dishwashers.
By Emily Moran
If you have oak trees in your neighborhood, perhaps you've noticed that some years the ground is carpeted with their acorns, and some years there are hardly any. Biologists call this pattern, in which all the oak trees for miles around make either lots of acorns or almost none, "masting."
By Catherine Davidson
Tashi Yudon peeks out from behind a net curtain at the rooftops below and lets out a sigh, her breath frosting on the windowpane in front of her.
Some 700 kilometers away in the capital city Delhi, temperatures have yet to dip below 25 degrees Celsius, but in Spiti there is already an atmosphere of impatient expectation as winter settles over the valley.