The popular marine park, which stopped using plastic bags in spring 2011, was an appropriate venue.
“That one change to our business operation resulted in a reduction of one million bags per year that would have ended up in a landfill or worse, in the ocean,” said SeaWorld president John Reilly.
Elected officials, business and civic leaders and environmentalists gathered Aug. 29 to declare support for SB 405, a bill authored by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-20th) to phase out single-use plastic bags in California, which is to be resubmitted in 2014.
Padilla said he was at the conference to deliver two messages.
“The first is a thank you to SeaWorld for leadership in voluntarily phasing out plastic bags, and the other is to call attention to our bill in Sacramento,” he said.
Padilla noted more than 80 California cities and counties have voted to discontinue using plastic bags. But only one San Diego community, Solana Beach, has followed suit thus far.
Padilla said studies have shown only 3 percent of plastic bags get recycled. Where does the other 97 percent go?
“In the ocean, on the beach, in rivers and parks and our sewer systems to the tune of $25 million a year for government to try and collect and divert to landfills or recycle,” said Padilla. “That’s money that cities won’t have to spend chasing plastic bags.”
Dave Koontz of SeaWorld public relations and marine park staffer Jody Westberg were on hand Aug. 29 to demonstrate just how dangerous plastic trash ending up in the ocean really is to marine wildlife.
“We’ve seen firsthand the negative impacts plastic bags can have on the coastal ecosystem,” Koontz said, noting sea turtles are particularly susceptible as they mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, which they ingest.
“We’ve actually had to remove the remains of plastic bags from inside them,” Koontz said, adding other forms of plastic, including fishing lines and six-pack carriers, have also proved problematic for sea life.
Westberg showed up with an armful of plastic trash, including a lobster pot, fishing lines and netting, as well as other plastic items recovered from the ocean.
“We had a California sea lion in rehab that actually regurgitated plastic bags,” Westberg said.
“It’s not that there’s a callous disregard that people are consciously polluting,” said Koontz. “It’s just this feeling that one little piece of trash is not going to amount to anything. But if you take and multiply all of this, it’s very cumulative with a detrimental impact.”
Nathan Weaver of Environment California, a statewide citizen-based environmental advocacy organization, said his group is taking the anti-plastic crusade to the streets.
“Plastic bags are one of the most common garbage items on California beaches,” said Weaver. “The single best way to clean up plastic bags is simply not to use them.”
Weaver said 10,000 San Diegans have signed a petition calling for a ban on plastic bags.
Weaver said Environment California is willing to work with the San Diego City Council to draft an anti-plastic ordinance that’s “right for San Diego.” He said the organization will do the same for other municipalities statewide.
Asked if it would be difficult to wean people from using plastic bags, Padilla said, “Local ordinances demonstrate that people adapt very quickly. If we make reusable or alternative bags to plastic available for free or low cost, people will use them.”