Single-use polystyrene coolers and plastic shopping bags are public enemy number one along the coast this summer
SUMMER IS HERE, and with it comes the excitement of the ocean, the sun, and fun with family and friends. Beach parties on long holiday weekends attract thousands of visitors from neighboring counties in the valley. It’s peak tourism season, which is great for coastal economies, but can be taxing for waste management on beaches. Beach trash often overflows from trash cans, litters the shore, and eventually enters the ocean–where it can harm marine ecosystems. While most of the litter can be commonly found across California, there are two products that have been officially extinct in the Monterey Bay since before 2010: single-use polystyrene (known as Styrofoam) coolers and plastic shopping bags. We ask for visitors help to prevent unnecessary and harmful pollution from entering the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) this summer by avoiding the two products when visiting the beach.
“Just remember, when you bring styrofoam coolers, cups, plates, and plastic shopping bags to the beach in Monterey or Santa Cruz County, people notice. These single-use products can be a bit discouraging to local communities given how hard we’ve worked to rid beaches from the nuisance—from the pollution.” – Communications Manager, Ryan Kallabis.
SOS intern volunteer, Tyler Feld, agrees. “I’ve noticed that lately we’ve been finding more items banned in the Monterey Bay, such as polystyrene coolers and plastic bags. People leave these things on the beach, using them as a trashcan, not realizing that the tides, wind, and animals break them up and litter them across the sand. I’d say, to prevent these from getting into the ocean, bringing your own reusable bags and coolers helps quite a bit.”
The MBNMS has the strictest polystyrene bans in the nation, and for good reason. Polystyrene, commonly referred to as Styrofoam, does not biodegrade and contains toxic chemicals that can leach into the food we eat and ocean water, should it become marine debris. When released into marine environments, polystyrene cells breakdown into small soft-pellets that can resemble fish eggs, which cannot be digested by marine wildlife.
Single-use plastic bags are just as harmful. The product has been banned in over 30 jurisdictions along the Monterey Bay coastline. Plastic bags can entangle and suffocate marine wildlife. A well-known example includes sea turtles choking on plastic bags after mistaking the bags for sea jellies. The thin walls of a single-use plastic bag is also more susceptible to breaking down into small plastic flakes, which marine wildlife can mistake for food. This is especially concerning because plastic has an “adsorb” property, which acts as a toxin magnet. These toxins can steep harmful chemicals in the water and enter the marine food chain from the bottom-up.
Plastic bags are already on the chopping block in California. In 2014, SB 270 was approved to prohibit specified retail stores from providing single-use plastic shopping bags to customers. The bill has been celebrated for influencing the use of reusable bags when shopping to reduce harmful waste—consider that the average American family uses 1,500 plastic bags a year. Unfortunately, out-of-state plastic industry lobbyists from Texas and New Jersey are challenging the law with a referendum to overturn the ban on single-use plastic bags in the November 8th ballot (Prop 65 & 67). To date, the plastic industry has spent over $11 million in out-of-state money to convince voters to repeal the ban. Save Our Shores warns that plastic bag pollution is an unnecessary environmental and economic burden. It is estimated that up to $107 million dollars are spent every year to manage single-use bag pollution in California alone.
The repeal on the statewide bag does not directly affect local bans that are already in place, but it will degrade the health of watersheds throughout the state that lead to coastal environments like the Monterey Bay. Voting yes on Prop 67, to affirm the plastic bag ban, will support marine environmental health.
As a result of local bag bans in the Monterey Bay, we have seen a significant decrease in the amount of plastic bags removed during our beach cleanups. We averaged 65 single-use plastic bags removed per cleanup before local bans were put into effect, and a mere 5 bags after. The steady decrease began in 2010, when we picked up 11,019 plastic bags. Presently, we are picking up fewer than 5,000 annually. That is significant progress!
CLEAN BEACH TIPS:
To protect the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary’s delicate ecosystem and unique marine wildlife, we ask visitors to consider these five clean beach tips to have a fun, litter-free holiday this July 4th:
- Please avoid bringing single-use polystyrene (styrofoam) and plastic items such as coolers, plastic bags, utensils, red cups, and picnic plates to the beach
- Try packing your food and drinks in reusable cups and containers worth taking back home with you
- It’s cool to transport your party stuff in reusable bags and to pack your trash back home with you
- Please don’t leave your firework shells, broken tent, bbq, or chairs behind on the beach… it’s just rude
- When using a beach fire pit, please don’t burn your trash or use the fire pit as a garbage can, tides can carry debris out to sea
- The majority of Monterey Bay jurisdictions have adopted stronger bag bans that only allow for thicker, reusable bags to be used at grocery stores, effectively eliminating single use plastic bags that are disguised as “reusable”
- The last Monterey Bay city to ban polystyrene was Marina in May of 2012
- Scotts Valley is the only remaining region in Santa Cruz County that has not implemented a local bag ban
- In Monterey County, Sand City and the City of Del Rey Oaks are the last two cities that do not have a plastic bag ban in place
- Since 2007, Save Our Shores removed 47,052 littered plastic bags from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary