Port Townsend research provides data for statewide report urging ban of plastic bags
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Jean Walat, volunteer and citizen science coordinator at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, sorts through some of the plastic items found on the regionís beaches. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — 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,” said Anne Murphy, the center’s executive director.

“It is such a minor, minor thing for people to give up using plastic bags, and it is so important for wildlife and the environment,” she added.

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 plastic 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.

Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval said she has heard of those bans and would favor such an action, as long as it received community support.

The Port Townsend City Council “could do this, but only if citizens worked together to determine it was what they really wanted and if they worked together with groceries and small businesses.”

Jefferson County Commissioner David Sullivan said the idea had not been brought up in any county meetings.

“I would support this if research showed that our action would be appropriate,” he said.

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.

“We must do something to reduce plastic waste and stop polluting the diets and nests of marine creatures,” she added.

“Once we take this step, we will wonder why it took us so long.”

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 17. 2011 6:27PM
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