Earlier this summer, a harrowing story blanketed the nightly news. In Thailand, a whale washed up on shore, which isn't uncommon or noteworthy, but something insidious ended its life. The whale died from poisoning -- death by plastic.

There were a staggering 80 plastic bags and nearly 18 pounds of plastic debris found in the pilot whale body.

This isn't a singular event, but a telling symbol of the massive impact of plastics impose on the health of our environment.

It is estimated that over 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, over 1 million sea-birds and countless fish die every year from ingesting plastics, and more than 800 types of wildlife have been documented to be harmed by this pollution. Astoundingly, it is estimated that there are 500 times more microplastics in our ocean than the 100 billion stars in our galaxy.

The statistics on the pervasive nature of plastic pollution can go on.

Plastics are major ecological and public health threats. Besides littering our oceans and lands, plastics persist for generations, absorb toxic substances like heavy metals and pesticides and bioaccumulate up the food chain. This has become so widespread that fishing industries are now finding these synthetic toxins in their products.

This paints a grim picture for the future of our oceans. What was once believed to be a far-off, trivial problem, is no longer so. It is here. Our oceans and waterways are choking on plastic. To make matters worse, by 2050, it is projected that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

New Jersey residents alone use 4.4 billion plastic bags annually. We need to change.

Encouragingly, New Jerseyans are taking local action. In 2015, Longport became the first municipality in New Jersey to pass an ordinance curtailing the use of single-use bags. In the past few months, multiple municipalities have followed suit. Major cities including Hoboken and Jersey City, as well as, prime tourist destinations including Monmouth Beach, Point Pleasant Beach and Ventnor City have passed ordinances to curb plastic use through outright bans or fees, and this is prudent decision-making.

Plastic in our environment is not only a major threat to our food and drinking water supplies but also threatens our $44 billion coastal economy and the 838,000 workers employed in the fishing and tourism industries.

Humans have created this problem and we must solve it. Luckily, New Jersey is on the precipice of taking a giant leap forward with a bill sitting on Gov. Phil Murphy's desk. This bill would shift consumer behavior by using a 5-cent fee as a disincentive and empower New Jerseyan's to use reusable bags.

Fees on single-use bags have resulted in precipitous drops in bag usage. For instance, in 2010, Washington, D.C., placed a fee on single-use bags and usage declined by 60 percent.


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