There’s been some controversy about the banning of plastic bags in our town. One side says it’s silly and the other says plastic is harmful to the environment. Some of the opposition says that reusable bags, if not washed regularly, carry harmful bacteria. So I started to watch what happened in the grocery checkout line. First, virtually all food items are in a box, can, or plastic bag. Those that are not, like bananas and pineapples, are peeled before they are eaten. So reusable bags aren’t likely contaminating the food. But you know what is? Lots, and I mean lots, of folks, finger the produce looking for the best onion, asparagus bunch, peach, apple, pear, you name it. I watched a woman handle at least 20 carrots before she found the three she liked. Another must have rummaged through 50 Brussells’ sprouts before she rejected them all. Another sniffed the lettuce – yuck. That’s where the bacteria come from, not reusable bags.
What does this have to do with birds? I’m extracting the following from the International Bird Rescue site.
Bits of plastic debris litter the shore: bottle caps, toys, cigarette lighters, fishing line and other garbage. Scientists are now documenting how this surge of plastic trash leaves a wake of death and disease that directly affects seabirds. In many areas of the globe, birds inadvertently feed on plastic floating on the water, mistaking it for food, and many times this ingestion leads to death and even the death of their young. A report by scientists studying the stomach content of Laysan Albatross chicks on Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean revealed disturbing results: Forty percent of Laysan Albatross chicks die before fledging. Necropsies of the chick’s stomachs found them filled with plastic trash. See more information at BirdLife.
Large plastic detritus such as bottles and packaging strangle birds and fish. Millimeter-sized plastic pellets-the building blocks of larger products-clog U.S. harbors and soak up toxic chemicals from seawater, poisoning the creatures that swallow them. Japanese researchers found that concentrations of these chemicals in the pellets were as much as a million times higher than in the water. Plastics themselves can leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals like biphenyl.
Especially lethal is discarded fishing gear. Millions of tons of cut line, lines with hooks, and nets litter our oceans causing cause slow, painful deaths to everything from tiny seabirds to whales. Many of the birds that come to International Bird Rescue’s rehabilitation centers are impacted by fishing line and hooks, having ingested and/or been debilitated by carelessly discarded monofilament line that has wrapped around their limbs and wings.
Land birds eat plastics as well and use them as nesting material. Although some plastic is recyclable, most is not recycled. Do we need to keep using these petroleum-based products? I’ve been using cloth bags for my groceries for years with no problem; I just wash the fingerprints off the fruits and veggies. And to those of you who finger the produce – knock it off.