On Wednesday evening I attended “Bag It” presented by the Alliance for Planet Earth. The presentation was about plastic bags and included a panel of speakers as well as a screening of a documentary. The panel included Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin, Lia Colabello of 5 Gyres, and Katie Zimmerman of Coastal Conservation League. It was also a zero waste event, meaning all of the food that was served with compostable plates and silverware. Overall, I really enjoyed this event and I feel like I learned a lot from it.
First, the panel spoke about plastic bags and the threat they pose to both our local environment and the planet as a whole. Charleston is particularly sensitive to plastic bags because we live in a coastal environment. When plastic bags get discarded they often end up in the ocean, where they pose a serious threat to wildlife, especially turtles. Folly Beach in particular is home to many loggerhead turtles, so they’re especially concerned with plastic use. I also learned that although plastic doesn’t degrade, it does get broken into smaller and smaller pieces which never disappear and are incredibly hard to clean up, and when in the ocean they attract other chemicals creating a threat for both wildlife and human health. When we eat fish, we may also be ingesting chemicals that the fish had in its system as a result of pollution. A lot of health complications from this bio magnification are still unknown.
A second main point discussed by the panel was policy. Each person on the panel believed that policy was the best way to combat the consequences of plastic pollution. In this past election cycle Folly Beach was the first community in the greater Charleston areas to ban not only plastic bags, but also all Styrofoam containers. This is a huge step forward in protecting our coastline and oceans. Now that Folly Beach has passed this legislation, it will pave the way for places like Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island to take similar steps. However, these policies generally come with a fair amount of opposition, especially from the plastic industry. Some places in the US have passed “preemptive legislation” which essentially makes it impossible to ban plastic bags like Folly Beach recently did. This type of legislation was attempted in Charleston, but fortunately did not pass. I thought the discussion on policy was really informative, and inspiring that places like Charleston are beginning to make real change.
Finally, we watched “Bag it: is your life too plastic”, a documentary about the effects of plastic pollution worldwide. The film followed Jeb Berrier, an average American who attempts to learn more about our dependence on plastics and how it is harming the environment. Although the documentary was very interesting and informative, I feel the panel was my favorite part of the event. I learned about how plastic impacts me and where I live and how policy can help change that. It was great to hear from real local officials on what we could do to help protect our environment.
By Lea Wright