BROOKINGS, S.D. (KSFY) - More than 8 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year, that's according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
That plastic makes up 80% of all marine debris, from surface waters to deep-sea sediments, but one South Dakota community is trying to do their part in saving the world's oceans, lakes, and rivers.
The city of Brookings is researching ways it can reduce the use of plastic bags, or maybe even eliminate them all together.
Single-use plastic bags are convenient, but what are they really doing to the environment? Many only have a lifespan of twelve minutes, but can take thousands of years to decompose.
"When they do degrade, they go into smaller pieces and animals eat them," Jennifer McLaughlin, a member of the Brookings Sustainability Council, said. "They get into our waters, our soils, and cause other environmental issues."
This is why the city has asked the Brookings Sustainability Council to research ways of reducing the use of single-use plastic bags in the community.
McLaughlin says the council proposed reward programs for returning bags to businesses, implementing fees for using plastic bags, and completely eliminating them.
As the city council works to find the best solution to the plastic bag dilemma, McLaughlin says education will be important to fixing the problem.
"We've got info graphics going out on social media and in newspapers," McLaughlin said. "We're trying to educate on why plastic bags have the negative environmental impact, and what you can use as an alternative."
And addressing the use of plastic bags may be just the start to reducing the use of all single-use plastics.
"This is something that they have taken very seriously," Assistant City Manager Jacob Meshke said. "This is an ongoing initiative, this plastic bag research is the latest addition of that, and it's something that we're constantly focusing on."
The plastic bag reduction process in Brookings is still in the works, but the Sustainability Council will provide a second presentation in the coming months.