Recycling won't eliminate threat of plastics bags on Washington's environment, wildlife, bans are best solution, according to new report by advocacy group Environment Washington

SEATTLE , February 15, 2012 (press release) – Plastic bags threaten marine wildlife and recycling won’t solve the problem according to a new report released today by Environment Washington, a citizen-based advocacy group that won a ban on plastic bags in Seattle. Concerned over the impact plastic bags have on wildlife, the group is working with communities across the state for similar bans.

In 2010, a gray whale was found dead in West Seattle with 20 plastic bags in its stomach, raising concern about how the bags threaten Puget Sound wildlife. While the plastics industry admits there is a problem with plastic pollution, it insists recycling can solve it. According to a new report from Environment Washington, A Solution Not in the Bag, recycling is not the answer.

“We can’t recycle our way out of this plastic bag mess,” said Robb Krehbiel of Environment Washington. “To protect wildlife from plastic bags, we need to get rid of them.”

Of the twenty-one municipalities that responded to a survey sent out by Environment Washington over 70% of those interviewed want plastic bags out of their recycling systems. Other key findings from the report include:

  • Plastic bags can get tangled in recyclers’ machinery, causing plants to shut down.
  • Some recycling plants in Washington estimate spending 20 to 30 percent of their labor costs removing plastic bags from their machinery – on the order of $1,000 per day.
  • California attempted to reduce bag litter by requiring grocery companies to place recycling bins in front of their stores. However, the program has only managed to increase plastic bag recycling by 2 percent in 3 years.
  • According to the EPA, only 4.3 percent of all plastic bags in the US were recycled in 2010, down almost 2 percent from the previous year.
As a result, many communities in Washington are pursuing a ban on plastic bags. Currently, there are proposed ordinance in Port Townsend, Issaquah, Bainbridge Island, and Thurston County. Other communities have begun a strong grassroots campaign, including the San Juan Islands, Tacoma, and Spokane.

Plastic bag bans such as these are the best solution, according to Environment Washington. In Washington, Seattle, Bellingham, Edmonds, and Mukilteo have all banned plastic bags. A renewed effort to ban plastic bags statewide began this year, and lawmakers plan to further to discussion next year.

In addition to causing problems with recycling machinery, Environment Washington has claimed that plastic bags threaten wildlife. According to the group, whales, seals, salmon, and birds can ingest these bags, choke on them, or be harmed by toxins.

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