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Say No to Plastic and Styro

September 17, 2010

Photo from Coastrider.com, taken by Ian Butler

What’s one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to help save the sea otters?  Protecting their habitat by reducing pollution. Such pollutants that can be easily controlled include plastic and Polystyrene Foam, more commonly known as Styrofoam.

Most people are familiar with Styrofoam and its uses: disposable food ware you get for your restaurant left overs, or that morning coffee on your way to work. What most people don’t know is how often Styrofoam (and plastic), even if it’s disposed of properly, finds its way to the ocean where it is ingested by marine life.

Though it may begin as a cup or bag, after its disposal Styrofoam and plastic embarks on a journey where it is broken down by the elements to a microscopic level (this can be done even in a landfill), caught by the wind and whisked out to sea where it is shielded from ultraviolet sunrays (which would cause decomposition) and then ingested by sea life, including mammals like the sea otter. And its no secret the damage Styrofoam and plastic can do to an animal if ingested. Not only can the particles poison the critter with PCB and other hydrophobic elements that it contains, it is very difficult for the plastic particles to be expelled by the body. So in effect, plastic and Styrofoam, if ingested by an animal like the sea otter, stays in the stomach indefinitely and slowly causes it to starve.

Though the state of California failed to pass the Styrofoam ban (AB 1358) in 2009 and the most recent plastic bag ban proposal (AB 1998), many cities across the state have taken upon themselves to enact bans of their own. Over 30 cities in California alone have enacted Styrofoam bans for restaurant take-out food ware. Four cities have banned plastic bag use by supermarkets (San Francisco, Palo Alto, Fairfax and Malibu) while Washington, DC has instituted a 5 cent tax for each plastic bag to dissuade use.

Its clear that while a state-wide ban may be politically impossible for now, local governments are paving the way towards a more sustainable future – a future that includes a healthy marine habitat and a strong sea otter population.

Do your part – contact your local government officials and tell them you support a ban on harmful plastic and Styrofoam in your own community.

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