HOUSE BILL THREATENS TO END PLASTIC BAG BAN IN PUERTO RICO
Plastic bags are in the news again, here at home and abroad.
The battle over their functionality and economy versus their negative effect on wildlife and the environment is once again heating up in Puerto Rico as environmental groups protest legislation that would reverse a plastic bag ban on the island.
New Progressive Party Rep. Nelson del Valle recently introduced House Bill 686 proposing to eliminate Law 247 of 2015, which regulates the use of plastic bags and promotes the use of reusable bags: a law that just came into effect last month.
Repealing the law would benefit food retailers by eliminating the hassle of replacing plastic bags in their operations and helping consumers who end up having to carry purchased items with their hands because of the cost of reusable bags, according to the bill.
However, MIDA (Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry and Distribution), which represents the island’s supermarkets, is not celebrating. The organization is recommending the law be amended rather than reversed, noting that retailers who got rid of plastic bags per Law 247 would be left at a disadvantage because restocking the bags would take months.
Pro-environmental organizations strongly oppose the bill, claiming that using reusable bags is a cultural shift that needs time to take root and that repealing the law would be disastrous for the environment.
The public needs more time to get used to reusable bags, says environmental group Basura Cero.
- Generate 200 tons of waste a day in Puerto Rico
- Take 500 years to decompose in landfills
- Pollute bodies of water
- Kill marine animals and other wildlife
PLASTIC TRASH KILLS ANIMALS
Earlier this month, more cases of plastics pollution killing marine animals made the news. A beached goose-beaked whale in Norway had 30 plastic bags and other plastic waste in its stomach that hindered its ability to digest food. An orphan baby manatee named Emoji died three months after being rescued by Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa in Florida from illness caused by plastic bags that filled the two-week-old calf’s stomach and intestines.
Research shows that half of the planet’s sea turtles and nearly all of the world’s seabirds have ingested some form of plastic. In 2009, photographer Chris Jordan took photos of the decaying bodies of birds in Midway Island whose stomachs were completely filled with plastic.
The danger of plastic bags and trash to animals is not limited to marine life. Last month, Maryland wildlife officials rescued a deer whose head had been stuck in a plastic pretzel jug for several days. In 2015, it was a 175-pound black bear they had to rescue after it got its head stuck in a milk can.
The United Nations estimates that eight million tons of plastic trash are dumped into the world’s oceans each year. National Geographic reports there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastics in our oceans, with 269,000 tons floating on the surface. The World Economic Forum estimates that at least 150 million tons of plastics pollute the oceans, predicting that by 2050 the Earth’s oceans will contain more plastic, by weight, than fish.
Here’s a recent, tragic example of the harm caused by plastic waste
FACTS ABOUT PLASTIC WASTE*
1. PLASTIC NEVER GOES AWAY
Plastic is a durable material made to last forever yet 33 percent of it is used once and then discarded. Plastic cannot biodegrade; it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.
2. PLASTIC AFFECTS HUMAN HEALTH
Chemicals leached by plastics remain in the bloodstreams and tissue of all living creatures. Exposure to plastics is linked to several types of cancer, increased birth defects, impaired immunity defenses, endocrine system disruption, and other serious ailments.
3. PLASTIC SPOILS OUR GROUNDWATER
There are tens of thousands of landfills across the globe. Buried beneath each one of them, plastic leachate full of toxic chemicals is seeping into groundwater and flowing downstream into our lakes and rivers.
4. PLASTIC ATTRACTS OTHER POLLUTANTS
Manufacturers’ additives in plastics, such as flame retardants, BPAs, and PVCs, can leach their own toxins. These oily poisons repel water and stick to petroleum-based objects like plastic debris.
5. PLASTIC PILES UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT
Americans alone discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year; only 8 percent of it gets recycled. The rest ends up in landfills or becomes litter, and a small portion is incinerated.
6. PLASTIC POISONS OUR FOOD CHAIN
Even plankton, the tiniest creatures in our oceans, are eating microplastics and absorbing their toxins. These toxic substances displace nutritive algae that creatures higher up on the food chain require for survival.
7. PLASTIC THREATENS WILDLIFE
Entanglement, ingestion, and habitat disruption are all the result of plastic (often in the form of plastic bags) ending up in the spaces where animals live. In our oceans alone, plastic debris outweighs zooplankton by a ratio of 36-to-1.
8. PLASTIC COSTS BILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO ABATE
As a result, entire industry sectors suffer —tourism, recreation, human and wildlife health—in fact, the business sector in general—all because of plastic pollution. The financial damage continuously being inflicted by the misuse of plastic is inestimable.
YOU CAN HELP!
Each one of us can take simple steps to reduce plastic waste and contribute to a healthier environment.
Last year, Alvarez-Diaz & Villalón launched a campaign as part of Earth Day to reduce the consumption of styrofoam by calling on restaurants in their local neighborhood of Santurce to replace styrofoam containers with food trays made from biodegradable materials. At the same time, they successfully asked the public to absorb the 11-cent cost difference.
“Something as simple as choosing a better food container has a tremendous positive impact on the environment,” says AD&V partner and lead interior designer Cristina Villalón.
Foam containers take more than 500 years to decompose. In addition to their negative environmental impact, using foam containers has been linked to cancer, birth defects, neurotoxicity, and reproductive issues, among other health concerns.
“We live in a world of limited resources. In our firm, we believe each citizen has the civic duty to make responsible decisions for the planet, both at work and at home” says AD&V co-founder and president architect, Ricardo Alvarez-Diaz.
In addition to its anti-styrofoam campaign, AD&V has implemented various eco-friendly initiatives in its offices, among them a company-wide recycling policy, an organic garden, numerous energy conservation measures, and an office-wide replacement of all plastics, whenever possible, with biodegradable materials.
* Source: The Plastic Pollution Coalition