With the vision of a needless marine death in his mind, Doug White is a man on a mission — to eliminate the use of plastic bags on St. John.
“It seems like such an innocent thing, using a plastic bag,” said White, a local architect and member of the Rotary Club of St. John and Island Green Builders Association. “About a year ago there was an article about a whale which washed up on shore and had died of starvation from 10 pounds of plastic in the stomach.”
With the image of that whale — along with the knowledge of documented cases of similarly affected sea turtles — White was motivated to kick-start a grass roots movement to eliminate the use of plastic bags on St. John.
“By the unconscious act of taking a plastic bag home from the store, using it once, or maybe twice to send your trash to the landfill, we initiate a process where we loose control of that plastic bag, which will live forever in the environment,” said White. “Should it get into the ocean, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. We have documented proof that plastic bags kill whales, turtles, other fish and sea birds and eventually may end up back in our stomachs, harming us also.”
“We, the residents and visitors on St. John, perform this act over 500,000 times a year,” said White.
White is partnering with the Rotary Club of St. John to launch a “Bring Your Bag” campaign targeting local businesses and villas to encourage customers to stop using plastic bags. Rotary Club officials sourced an American-made, heavy duty, organic cotton reusable shopping bag and hired Tall Ship Trading Company in Coral Bay to print the “Bring Your Bag” and Rotary Club logos on them.
“We wanted a bag that was making a positive statement; not one that was made out of toxic materials,” said White. “We have to buy the bags in 500-lot quantities to get a good rate on them and St. John Printing created our logos which are being printed by Tall Ship Trading in Coral Bay.”
“We’re trying to keep it as local as we can,” he said.
There are two ways to get involved with the Bring Your Bag program; either through direct sponsorship or an exclusive printing run, White explained.
“We developed a system where if you contribute $300 you get your logo printed on all 500 bags and it takes 12 different businesses to finance a 500 bag order and printing,” said White. “There are 12 logos on one side of the bag and on the other side is the ‘Bring Your Bag’ and Rotary Club of St. John logos. The $300 contribution also gets you 40 bags which you can sell to recover some or all of that cost and even make a profit.”
The other program with the Bring Your Bag campaign is aimed at getting tourists who rent villas to use the heavy duty shopping totes, White explained.
“For villas, we have a program where just their logo is printed on the bag,” he said. “You pay $300 and you get three dozen bags with just your logo on the bag.”
The idea is that if these bags are in the villa waiting to be used, tourists will gladly take part in this effort which has the potential to make a huge impact, White added.
“We’re trying to get people into the habit of using their own bags,” he said. “Once you train yourself, it becomes second nature. It might take a while to get to that stage, but I think everyone who learns about this issue wants to help.”
Through the Bring Your Bag campaign, White is also trying to raise awareness about the impact of plastic bags on the environment; hoping that once those dots are connected people will embrace the program.
“We’re trying to create awareness about this,” he said. “It seems like an innocent thing, but that innocent thing is going to kill a whale or a turtle. We have documented proof that these bags kill whales and turtles.”
“Although people don’t intend for that to happen, there is a real possibility that simply by taking a plastic bag, it will kill a whale or turtle,” said White. “So bring your own bag and become a speaker for the whales and the turtles, who can’t speak for themselves.”
To sponsor a Bring Your Bag run, email White at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 690-0217.
To learn more about the impacts of plastic bags, White suggested viewing “The Majestic Plastic Bay: A Mocumentary Video” www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLgh9h2ePYw