PUBLISHED: 5:33 PM on Wednesday, April 16, 2008
It's not easy being green
Five Questions with Turning the Tides
Turning the Tides (TTT) is a recently formed Juneau-based nonprofit organization concerned with the health of the ocean. It strives to raise awareness about ocean issues and to promote ocean-friendly practices, clean-up efforts and waste reduction through various projects.

Last year, TTT built a boat from 4,000 plastic bottles and 2,000 plastic bags, called the "Plastic Poison," that won first prizes at the Juneau/Douglas 4th of July parades and toured the state.

Mihael Blikshteyn photo
  Joshua Adams cleans up trash from the South Bridget Cove beach during the International Coastal Cleanup in 2007.
The group organizes beach clean-ups and workshops, invites speakers, and gives presentations. TTT continues to support Senate Bill 118, which it helped initiate in 2007, calling for a 15-cent fee to be levied on plastic bags distributed in Alaskan retail stores and for the establishment of a marine litter fund.

Turning the Tides members Dixie Belcher and Hildegard Sellner tell more about Juneau's newest green organization.

What does Turning the Tides hope to accomplish by campaigning to levy a fee on plastic bags in Alaska?

The health of the ocean is rapidly declining. One reason for this crisis is plastic pollution.

Plastics don't biodegrade; every piece of plastic ever made is still around - and much of it ends up in the ocean. There are 30 times more plastic bits than plankton in large areas of the ocean. Plastic bags layer huge parts of the ocean floor, suffocating all life underneath, which is alarming since the ocean is the world's primary source of oxygen.

  Hildegard Sellner
Sea animals get entangled in plastics; they choke on them; their intestines get blocked from ingesting plastics; they absorb toxins released by plastic and develop many diseases.

Human blood tests show we all carry plastic toxins, making us sick and contributing to rising cancer rates and health care costs. The list of detrimental effects of plastics is long, and the problem is huge. TTT decided to start with plastic bags.

A fee on plastic bags - similar to SB 118 - was introduced in Ireland in 2001, and within one year consumption decreased by 90%. Think of how many plastic bags would not end up in ocean and landfills and how much harm could be prevented if this bill passed in Alaska!

Where do other areas of the world currently stand on this issue?

  Dixie Belcher
Plastic bags are taxed in Ireland and Australia, and free plastic bags are banned in Bangladesh, South Africa, Taiwan, China, Paris, Mumbai, and in San Francisco. Fees and bans are being considered around the world, including Great Britain, parts of Canada, and countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. In the U.S., Hawaii, Seattle, Portland, El Paso, Austin, Philadelphia, and Oakland are debating legislation to reduce these bags. Several Alaskan communities have already banned plastic bags; Skagway is considering a ban. Leaf Rapids, Manitoba (Canada) became the first municipality in North America to forbid the use of plastic bags by shops. The law, which took effect in April 2007, calls for fines up to $1,000. The world is realizing that the environmental and medical price of "free" plastic bags is too high.

What does Turning of the Tides have planned for Earth Day?

This year's overall focus of the annual Earth Day event at the Glacier Visitor Center will be plastic pollution. TTT will give a presentation and show our movie clip "Ocean of Plastic". This event will be on April 19 (the Saturday before Earth Day) from 11 am to 3 pm.

On Earth Day, Tuesday April 22, TTT will show "Baked Alaska", a documentary by Haines filmmaker Steve Kroschel. This 70-minute film examines many of the environmental challenges facing Alaskans: from road building to oil production to plastic pollution to ionosphere manipulation.

This event will be at the Gold Town Nickelodeon on April 22 beginning at 5:30 pm. Admission is free; donations appreciated.

How does TTT suggest people in the community help out the environment?

Please use cloth or canvas bags. Paper bags are not an option - their production uses 6 times more energy than that of plastic bags and pollutes rivers and oceans. Carry your own reusable drinking bottle, cup and silverware and avoid "free" throwaway counterparts. TTT advocates the environmental trinity - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - however, our focus is on the first - reduction at the source. Set a positive example, and talk to your colleagues, neighbors, and friends. Get creative! Think of new ways to cut down plastic use in your life. Have a beach clean up party!

Let Turning the Tides know what you are doing, so that we can spread the word on our website. Email us photos of plastic garbage in the ocean and on Alaskan shores. Help us raise awareness of the impact plastics are having on the ocean. And join Turning the Tides!

What are the benefits of becoming a member of TTT and when are meetings?

Members work communally on projects that everyone is passionate about. TTT is a dynamic and rapidly growing organization and includes many outdoor activities. Membership is free and everyone is welcome. Meetings are every other Wednesday from 5:30 - 7 at the Silverbow. Next meeting: April 9. For further information please visit or call Dixie (789-0449) or Hildegard (723-0789).