Plastic Bags

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Millions of disposable plastic bags are used and discarded in Washington each year. A beached grey whale was found in West Seattle in 2010 with 20 plastic bags in its stomach. Small pieces of plastic can absorb toxic pollutants like DDT and PCB. Scientists have found that fish are ingesting these toxins when they ingest plastic, concentrating the chemicals in the food chain. There is a good chance that we also absorb these pollutants when we eat fish. The good news is, Washingtonians are taking action to protect the Sound. In 2009, Edmonds became the first city in the state to ban plastic bags. In 2011, six other cities joined the effort. Bellingham, Mukilteo, Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Port Townsend, and Issaquah all banned the bag, significantly cutting down on the amount of plastic flowing into Puget Sound. Today, dozens more communities are considering similar legislation, including Olympia. Local bans have an immediate impact and are a great start—but we can’t stop until bags are banned statewide. When plastic bags are part of mixed recyclables, they get caught in machinery, shutting down recycling operations. Responding to an Environment Washington Research & Policy Center survey, 70 percent of Washington recycling companies want plastic bags out of the waste stream. Curbside recycling in some of Washington’s cities allows the inclusion of plastic bags in mixed recyclables but this actually causes problems in the recycling facilities. • Over half of Washington’s recycling facilities do not even accept plastic bags. For those facilities, 83% reported that their recycling stream was contaminated with plastic bags and it was causing problems. • When plastic bags pollute mixed recyclables, they 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 Puget Sound is an irreplaceable treasure.

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