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World Oceans Day: Spotlight on Local Bag Laws and Offshore Drilling

The World Oceans Day Festival at the New England Aquarium was a fantastic opportunity for the Surfrider Foundation MA Chapter to share its recent work on two key issues: Opposing expansion of oil and gas drilling into New England waters and reducing the generation of waste that leads to plastic marine debris.

Surfrider Foundation MA Table at World Oceans Day 2018

With sleeves rolled up and ready to go, our volunteers ran a hands-on experiment showing the dangers of expanded offshore drilling. By comparing how feathers retain fluffiness and heat-insulating properties when dipped into a pan of clean water, but become oily, matted, and useless when covered by an oil spill (in this case...vegetable oil and black paint), kids and families learned first-hand how devastating an oil spill would be to wildlife.

Participants also tried various methods of cleaning up the oil spill, and found that all of them were difficult and ineffective at best. This emphasized that best solutions involve keeping pollution out of the water in the first place, including finding ways to reduce our usage of fossil fuels. Many thanks to Jess and Eric for designing and running this fun, yet thought-provoking demo!

The other half of the Surfrider MA table highlighted the progress of local laws to reduce single-use plastic pollution across Massachusetts, using the campaign against free, disposable plastic checkout bags as a key example of progress.

Visitors were challenged to find their hometown on the Massachusetts bag law map and to check if theirs was on the list yet! This provided an opportunity to learn about how these pollution reduction efforts came to pass, and what more can be done even in towns that already have a bag law (Styrofoam takeout containers, bottled water, and plastic straws, anyone?).

Towns in MA with Bag Bans

We also proudly showcased the amazing work that our dedicated chapter volunteers have been doing to support many of these local citizen-led efforts, including writing letters of support, collecting and sharing technical information, giving presentations at local forums, and helping with late-night moral support.

Thanks to a broad coalition of individuals and organizations (of which Surfrider MA is just a part!), 79 cities and towns in MA have now passed plastic bag laws. These cover 2.4 million residents, which is more than 35% of the state's total population! During just the 2018 Spring town meeting season, no fewer than 17 more municipalities have joined the ocean-protection party and decided to cut down on their distribution of free plastic checkout bags. We estimate that once all of these laws go into full effect, our state will generate between 600 and 700 MILLION fewer thin-film plastic checkout bags every year.

Every additional local law that passes also pushes us closer to a critical mass that will allow us to successfully advance plastic pollution reduction laws statewide. In fact, more than half of state representative districts now contain at least one bag law town.

We welcomed visitors from more than 40 different MA communities. Several more came from out of state and as far away as Thailand and Slovenia. By spreading the word about the significant progress we've made and what more still needs to be done, the Chapter continues to get people thinking and talking about the enormous but ultimately solvable challenges facing the world ocean. Seeing and learning about what fellow Massachusetts residents have achieved will hopefully inspire even more people to take ownership of pushing for the changes that they want and our ocean needs.

It's a big ocean, but small changes add up. Happy World Oceans Day!