Plastic Bags Cause Problems for Local Creeks and Streams

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COLUMBIA - They are easy to spot along the banks and submerged in local streams, plastic shopping bags carelessly discarded.

Plastic bags and bottles make up 90 percent of the waste found during the city's creek and stream clean ups.

Sammy Se is a senior at Rock Bridge High School and spends her Saturday mornings cleaning up Columbia's waterways.

She said she sees plastic bags just about everywhere.

"I think a lot of people just think, 'Oh they're plastic bags, I'll just throw them away at home,' but a lot of times, their bags rip and they end up in streams here," Se said.

It takes one plastic bag 1,000 years to degrade.

Many cities like San Francisco, New York and Dallas have enacted plastic bag laws in an effort to help the environment.  But as for Columbia joining that list, it might be a while.

"I don't see a ban on plastic bags at this point," Sixth Ward Council Member Barbara Hoppe said.

But for now the city says it will look into other ways to help reduce the amount of plastic bag waste.

"Maybe the city can do something in terms of promoting those stores or publicize and thank those stores that are good community citizens and are reducing the bag litter in Columbia," Hoppe said. Hoppe was referring to local retailers like "Lucky's Market that offer incentives for customers to bring their own reusable bags and pass on the plastic. Lucky's rewards shoppers who bring in reusable bags with ten cents off their purchase. Shoppers also have the option of donating that ten cents to local charities.

And a few stores in Columbia have made the switch to paper bags instead of plastic. But storm water educator Mike Heimos says reusable bags are the best option.

"It's good to think of your effect on the environment and how much you're consuming. And it is easier and convenient to use (a plastic bag). But it is a lot easier to think about your impact and try and use a reusable bag," Heimos said.

The city also holds annual trash clean ups as one way to combat the problem, but Hoppe said the city hopes to become more proactive rather than reactive.

"It's better always to be proactive on the front end than trying to do it on the back end. We can't clean up everything," Hoppe said.

Se said that the first step in fixing the problem is to raise awareness.

"More people should know about it and know the effects and where it goes and I don't think a lot of people realize that we're spending our Saturday mornings picking up their trash that they were too lazy to throw away

Until a change is made, Se says she will continue to help clean up Columbia.

Columbia's annual city-wide trash pick up event, Cleanup Columbia will be held on April 12th.