SeaWorld donated 25,000 reusable bags to the city of San Diego on Wednesday, to help residents break the plastic bag habit before the city considers whether to ban them.
The marine park, which has been plastic bag free since 2011, wants to encourage San Diegans to bring their own bags, in order to minimize the harmful impacts of discarded plastic bags on sea turtles and other marine life.
“Our focus is on the impact of plastics on the animals,” said park president John Reilly.
The donation will help the city move toward its goal of diverting 100 percent of waste from landfills by 2040, city officials said, and will familiarize residents with reusable bags before the council votes on a proposed bag ban later this year.
The proposed bag ban would eliminate disposable plastic bags from San Diego retail stores such as markets and pharmacies, encourage shoppers to bring reusable totes and require businesses to charge 10 cents for each paper bag. Interim Mayor Todd Gloria said the council could consider the measure by the summer.
Opponents of the bag ban said, however, that the gesture won’t offset the costs of reusable bags to most working families and low income residents.
Whether or not the city eventually bans plastic bags, officials said residents can reduce waste save landfill space and protect sea life by switching to reusable bags.
“The message is simple,” Chris Gonaver, director of the city’s Environmental Services Department said at a press conference at SeaWorld Wednesday. “When you go shopping, bring your own bag.”
Bishop George McKinney, pastor at Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ in Encanto and an opponent of the proposed plastic bag ban, said, the donation won’t cover all the costs of reusable bags for working families and low income residents.
“The reality is this bag ban and tax scam is a heavenly deal for the California Grocers Association and a raw deal for San Diegans,” McKinney said. “First, you can’t buy enough bags for all the people of San Diego. Second, thousands of lower-income, working families and retirees will still be forced to buy these bags or pay a heavy tax for paper bags on each grocery
In addition to the interim mayor and other officials the press conference featured an appearance by Peanut, a five-year-old green sea turtle raised at SeaWorld. Swimming in a portable pool, he exemplified the kind of young turtles who are most at risk from plastic ingestion, said Mike Price, assistant curator of zoological operations.
Younger turtles swim in the open ocean feeding on jellyfish, which look similar to plastic bags in the water, he said. Juvenile turtles swallow the bags, which clog their digestive system, leading to “a slow, uncomfortable process of starving to death,” Price said.
SeaWorld veterinarians often remove the bags from the throats or stomachs of animals they rescue, Price said, but many more perish at sea.
“For a threatened species, it’s not a good ecological strategy to remove the young ones,” he said.
SeaWorld banished plastic bags from its grounds when it opened its Turtle Reef exhibit in 2011, Reilly said. It subsequently eliminated foam and plastic cups, plates and utensils from its eateries.
“We thought that if we’re telling the story of the risk of plastic to these animals in the wild, it was an opportunity to change the way we do business in terms of plastic bags,” he said.