We've all seen too many of them--flying through the air like little windblown parachutes, stuck to trees and fence lines, and even in waterways and on the beach--lots and lots of plastic bags. More often than not these bags are the type that most stores seem eager to give out in abundance with your purchases. I'm always slightly appalled by baggers at the grocery store who like to put single items in their own bags, and often times double-bagging it as well.
I'm not criticizing any stores in particular and especially not baggers because I know that they have been taught to do whatever it takes to make sure our strawberries, loaves of bread, and cartons of milk don't collide on the way to our kitchens. Much of the blame for this overwhelming blight can be placed on careless consumers who consciously litter as well as people who don't take the time to consider the implications of putting plastic shopping bags into the trash after one use.
HHC's watershed education program "The Hawai'i Watershed Experience" was designed to reach out to keiki at a very impressionable age, between 7 and 9 years old, when they can really understand the detriment caused by pollution and want to do something to prevent it. During the field trip portion of the program we emphasize the importance of
- trying to avoid using plastic bags altogether--get several good reusable ones and do whatever it takes to remember taking them to the store every time you go;
- if you get a plastic bag, reuse it as much as you can until it gets a hole in it;
- then, recycle it--most stores like Safeway and Foodland have bins in front of the store for used bags;
- finally, if you can't refuse it, you can't reuse it, and you can't recycle it, at least dispose of it properly and tie a knot in it first so it won't become wind-born.
Some constituents of mine who live in Ko Olina, the beautiful resort community on the Leeward side of Oahu, showed me a video they had taken. Ko Olina is situated across a highway from Waimanalo Gulch, Oahu's municipal landfill. The home video that they shot showed hundreds of plastic bags literally flying over their townhouse. At first glance it looked like a huge flock of seabirds. The bags were windblown from the landfill and they were all headed straight towards the ocean.
Plastic bags are an extremely serious threat to marine life. Their design allows for small birds and animals to become completely encased. A plastic bag in the ocean appears like a jellyfish which is a delicacy to sea turtles. The elementary school kids who participate in "The Hawai'i Watershed Experience" are shown pictures of a sea bird caught inside a plastic bag and of an endangered sea turtle eating a plastic bag. The response is always the same--shock and sadness. This is the intention of showing them the pictures; we want to make a significant impression on them so they will remember, and hopefully tell their family and friends, to reduce plastic bag use and plastic bag pollution.