Friday, April 1, 2011

Plastic Bags: My Letter to Senator Goolsby

Yesterday, I FINALLY sat down and wrote NC Senator Thom Goolsby regarding his recent sponsorship to repeal the plastic bag ban in the NC Outer Banks.  I made the decision to share my letter on my personal Facebook account and now here in hopes that others will also choose to write him.  Please feel free to use my letter, edit it to make it your own or start from scratch.  

Whatever you do... just do something :) 

The proposed Bill to Repeal the Ban on Plastic Bags in Certain Coastal Areas:

You can email Senator Goolsby at this address:

Senator Goolsby,

My name is Danielle Richardet, my husband Aaron has been in contact with you regarding your recent sponsorship to repeal the plastic bag ban in the North Carolina Outer Banks.  I felt that I should also connect with you to voice my concerns about repealing the plastic bag ban.  While I may not have scientific degrees to share with you my expertise, what I do have is an active role in our community focusing on litter.  As a family, we spend a good amount of time cleaning up the litter that others leave behind.  One does not need a degree to see that plastic bags are a huge problem, even our three children are quick to point out the insidious amount of plastic bags that litter our roadways, waterways and beaches.  As I'm sure you are well aware, plastic bags are the 2nd most commonly found item during beach and waterway clean ups. 

Of more than ten million pieces of garbage picked up on ocean beaches in 2009 during International Coastal Cleanup Day... 1,126,774 were plastic bags.  ***7,288 of those plastic bags were removed from North Carolina.*** Plastic bag debris was second only to cigarette butts/filters (21%) in number and accounted for full 11% of ALL marine debris picked up.    

But, the fact that the plastic bags are littered (and not always intentionally) isn't the only concern that I have.  I'm aware of the study that shows plastic bags using less resources than paper bags.  While that may be true, this isn't about paper vs. plastic.  Whether or not paper uses more energy and plastic uses less... there are consequences to both of these single-use disposable products.  When it comes to plastic bags, there are factors that aren't relayed in the paper vs. plastic studies such as how countless animals die from plastic ingestion every single year. 

At least 267 different species are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of marine debris (or more appropriately plastic pollution) including seabirds, turtles, seals, sea lions, whales and fish.  Studies on dead turtles reported ingestion of plastic pollution in 79.6% of the turtles that were examined from the Western Mediterranean (Tomas et al. 2002), 60.5% of turtles in Southern Brazil (Bugoni et al. 2001) and 56% of turtles in Florida (Bjordal et al. 1994)2  See:

Some other factors that must be understood and taken into account are:

  • Plastic bags are made from polyethylene which is a byproduct of petroleum and natural gas.  Both sources are nonrenewable and create more greenhouse gases and increase our dependency on foreign oil.  
  • All of the chemicals used in the process of creating plastic bags are toxic and cause damage to the environment as well as people. According to the US EPA, 35 of the 47 chemical plants ranked highest in carcinogenic emissions produce plastics (BEC). DEHP is a chemical used to stabilize the plastic in plastic bags. DEHP has been shown to decrease sperm levels and even act as a neurotoxin. One of the key ingredients in manufacturing plastic bags is vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is a proven carcinogenic and may also cause liver, kidney, and brain damage.  
  • Once the extremely toxic chemicals are turned into bags, the bags still need to be transported to their destination. These plastic bags are often transported from overseas on ships and then put on trucks for distribution across the country. If people bring their own bags then there would not be a necessity for any of the transportation or disposal costs. All the excess fossil fuels used to bring plastic bags around the country would be eliminated. The shipping resources could be put to better use and the fossil fuels can not be used at all. 
  • Between 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every single year.  Taking the low worldwide consumption number of 500 billion bags used annually, if 99.9% of plastic bags were recycled that would leave 500 million plastic bags to be littered or landfilled.  The recycling recovery rate for plastic bags is between 1 and 3%.  Unfortunately, when it comes to plastic bags recycling is not the answer.  

Last May, while at Figure 8 Island we were hit with a reality that we cannot turn away from.  You can see the photos from our day at the beach here:

Below is a Press Release that was sent to me by Dr. Wallace J Nichols.  I believe you will find it interesting, eye-opening and no doubt helpful in your decision making process.

Thank you for your time on this important issue of environmental and economic responsibility,

Danielle Richardet
Phone number

ATTACHED:  photo of degrading single use plastic bag (from Wal-Mart) at Wrightsville Beach, NC.  The bag was breaking down into smaller pieces that had to be scooped up with sand.

-----Original Message-----
Subject: Press Release: Our Plastic Food Chain -or- The Turtle Who Pooped Plastic: new report chronicles effects of decades of plastic pollution on sea turtles



(explicit research photos available at

Contact:  Wallace J. Nichols, PhD                                                                                                     
Research Associate, California Academy of Sciences

Our Plastic Food Chain -or- The Turtle Who Pooped Plastic

As ocean pollution experts meet in Hawaii, disturbing new report chronicles effects of decades of plastic pollution on sea turtles—and what we can do about it.

 Honolulu, 26 March 2011
In 2009, marine biologists with Disney's Animal Programs in Melbourne Beach, Florida, discovered a green sea turtle that was having trouble digesting food. They found that a piece of plastic had lodged in the turtle's gastrointestinal tract. When biologists removed the obstruction, the turtle defecated 74 foreign objects in the subsequent month. Among the items documented were four types of latex balloons, five different types of string, nine different types of soft plastic, four different types of hard plastic, a piece of carpet-like material, and two tar balls to boot.

The list of items from this one turtle read like a catalog of a growing and deadly concern for virtually all marine animals—single-use plastics are having a lethal effect on animals living in the sea.

Experts on plastic pollution from around the world, determined to solve this growing problem, gathered this week for the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, a mecca for green sea turtles.
Now, in a recent editorial published in the Marine Turtle Newsletter, marine biologists Colette Wabnitz, PhD, of the University of British Columbia and Wallace "J." Nichols, PhD, of the California Academy of Sciences, lay out the entire disturbing history of plastics in the ocean, from the first scientific report to the latest surveys, to call attention to the concerns from 1972 to today. The report is grim, but provides a ray of hope in the form of proactive steps that can and should be undertaken to curtail overproduction and careless discard of single-use plastics.
The authors were careful to acknowledge that certain plastics have done much good in the world. The report firmly lays the blame at the feet of so-called "disposable" plastics: commonly used beer cups, water bottles and caps, grocery bags, plastic utensils, and so forth, intended to be used just once and thrown away. While these plastics are cheap and convenient, they are also durable and buoyant—making for a potent and deadly combination in the water. 

Though plastics like these do break down from exposure to sunlight and other elements, the molecules of plastic never fully biodegrade—they just break into smaller and smaller pieces but never completely disappear. Eventually, many of these small particles get blown or washed into tributaries that feed rivers which flow to the ocean where plastics coalesce in ocean currents. Here they swirl in the eddying currents forming a  sort of plastic soup where they float virtually forever and are often—the whole pieces and broken bits—ingested by the creatures of the sea. Once in the guts they can do great harm, or even kill, animals such as sea turtles.

Among the more startling facts reported is that 1 billion single-use plastic bags are distributed free of charge every day, of which an estimate 0.2-0.3% make their way to the ocean. Even that small percent means hundreds of millions of bags each year are left to float in the sea. In particular, the crisis has had a deleterious effect on sea turtles, which mistake the floating bags for jellyfish, a favorite food. 

All seven species of sea turtle are listed as endangered on the World Conservation Union's "Red List" of species in danger of extinction, a situation made even more urgent for many animals by plastic pollution.

"Last year I counted 76 plastic bags in the ocean in just one minute while standing in the bow of our sea turtle research boat at sea in Indonesia", reports Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences and coauthor of the review. "The science is becoming crystal clear: sea turtles and plastic pollution don't mix well. Sea turtles have spent the past 100 million years roaming seas free of plastic pollution, and are now sadly the poster animal for impacts of our throw away society on endangered species", states Nichols.

Other facts reported by Wabnitz and Nichols and explicitly illustrated in the accompanying photo library, include:

• Worldwide, plastic pollution is adding to the stress on endangered ocean wildlife, like sea turtles;

• Plastic can be ingested by or entangle sea turtles and can physically interfere with their nesting activity on beaches when it accumulates in large amounts;

• Approximately half of all sea turtles surveyed had ingested plastic items; and,

• Micro-plastics are accumulating in molluscs and crustaceans sea turtles eat.

The authors were not without suggestions for corrective measures to ameliorate or end the plague of plastics in the ocean. In addition to broader policy efforts recommended by the authors, were simpler—"off-the-shelf"—personal behavior solutions, including:

• Avoiding plastic-bottled beverages;

• Buying products with minimal or reusable packaging;

• Buying in bulk whenever possible to reduce packaging;

• Buying used items;

• Seeking out reusable shopping and produce bags like those made from renewable sources (e.g., natural fibres) and always bringing them along;

• For coffee and or tea – bring your own mug;

• For food – bring your own container.

"Sea turtle researchers and conservationists have a unique role to play in our cultural evolution away from plastic pollution, as we have watched the havoc the surge of plastic has caused first hand", notes Dr. Colette Wabnitz of the University of British Columbia.

"Sea turtle researchers from around the world have been submitting photos of interactions with plastic to the Image Library on Given the amount of disposable plastic I see alongside the road everyday and the garbage my kids pick up whenever we go to the beach, the results are not surprising", added Dr. Michael Coyne, founder and director of

The pdf of the report and a collection of images from around the world depicting in excruciating detail the impact of plastic on sea turtles can be found at: