Use of plastic bags studied

Jean Walat, citizen science coordinator at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, sorts through some of the plastic items found on local beaches on Thursday. (Associated Press)
Jean Walat, citizen science coordinator at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, sorts through some of the plastic items found on local beaches on Thursday. (Associated Press)

Marine science center finds particles ‘everywhere’

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. – An environmental group pushing to ban plastic bags statewide has published a report that drew from material assembled by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

“We’ve researched the whereabouts and abundance of plastics in the marine environment in the Salish Sea for many years,” Anne Murphy, the center’s executive director, told the Peninsula Daily News.

The report, presented by the Environment Washington Research and Policy Center at a press conference in Seattle and Olympia on Thursday, said plastic bags contribute to the pollution of Puget Sound.

Washington residents use more than 2 billion bags per year, said Robb Krehbiel, who wrote the report.

“Plastic bags have a huge impact on the creation of waste and litter,” he said. “They constantly put wildlife in danger.”

Only a small percentage are recycled and instead end up sitting in landfills, littering streets, clogging streams, fouling beaches or floating in the Sound, the report said.

Krehbiel said much of the data in the report originated from the Marine Science Center.

“People in Port Townsend have been at the forefront of plastics research and really understand how it is affecting wildlife,” he said.

He also told of one point that he did not use in his report: On the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge, one in 10 gulls were found to have eaten the thin plastic that is used in grocery bags.

Krehbiel is hoping the report will prompt local governments to ban or impose fees on plastic bags, which would curtail their use.

“This is something that costs local governments nothing and makes a tremendous difference to the environment,” he said.

Edmonds and Bellingham already have imposed bans or fees on plastic bags, and it has reduced consumption, while Seattle, Lake Forest Park and Mukilteo are actively considering bag bans, according to the report.

The marine science center, along with volunteers and partnering community groups, have measured the amount of plastic and other human debris on sandy beaches in all 12 Washington state counties bordering the Salish Sea since 2008.

The name, Salish Sea, describes the coastal waterways surrounding southern Vancouver Island and Puget Sound between Canada and the U.S.

Sandy beaches in Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits were sampled based primarily on ease of access.

Measurements to date suggest that the area sampled conservatively contains 6 metric tons of plastic and 3.4 metric tons of other human debris, such as glass and aluminum.

“In our plastics study, we found plastic particles everywhere that we looked – in beach sands, floating on the surface of the Salish Sea and in gull boluses,” Murphy said.

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