“Paper or plastic?” It’s a fairly innocuous question that cashiers at retail stores ask as you complete your shopping experience, but how you answer that query can have a far reaching impact on Galveston’s environment.
Plastic bags are one of those modern conveniences that became commonplace before we even took a moment to consider their environmental impact. But Joanie Steinhaus, campaign director, Gulf Coast for the Turtle Island Restoration Network, which partnered with the Surfrider Foundation Galveston Chapter to develop the Bring the Bag Campaign, says plastic bags have become a scourge to the environment for a number of reasons.
“Plastic bags don’t biodegrade; they break down into tiny particles that are found throughout the water and soil,” Steinhaus said. “They also absorb toxins, and we know that fish and birds consume these micro plastics. Plus, they are a significant source of litter and contribute to flooding by getting stuck in storm drains.”
The Bring the Bag campaign was launched in 2014 as an education and outreach initiative to bring attention to the potentially devastating ecological effects created by plastic bags and to encourage the use of reusable bags. Steinhaus says studies show that the use of reusable bags helps to eliminate an estimated 22,176 plastic bags per person over their lifetime.
Galveston city council members are in the process of considering a ban on the use of plastic bags on the island, and the Bring the Bag Campaign is helping to support that effort by providing information to the public and reaching out to businesses to garner their support. Part of that outreach will include Galveston Bring the Bag Day, scheduled for April 22. City leaders are encouraging businesses to reduce and eliminate plastic bags and are educating island visitors to be good stewards of the environment.
“We have multiple businesses on the island that have made the decision not to use plastic bags. We have also done outreach with homeowner’s associations, businesses, hotel and lodging associations and others so we can understand what impact a plastic bag ban would have on merchants. Plastic bags cost much less than reusable bags, so one thing we’ve discussed is forming a co-op to help businesses make the transition (to reusable bags).”
Brownsville, Austin and South Padre are among a handful of Texas cities to enact anti-plastic bag bans, but subsequent efforts on the part of cities are being met with resistance in the form of threatened lawsuits. Steinhaus was part of a group that traveled to Austin this month to voice opposition to Senate Bill 103, which seeks to prevent cities and counties from enacting plastic bag bans on the basis that it is a decision that should be made at the state level, rather than local.
Steinhaus said there are many ways for interested volunteers to help the cause. For more information on how to get involved, visit Bringthebag.org.