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Tuesday, July 29, 2014 | Last updated: 5:57pm

Save the desert: Hold the plastic



Let go of the balloon and watch as it flies away until it is a mere speck in the sky. Watch the plastic bag from the grocery store fall out of your car and get blown away by the wind. These items are gone forever … or so you think.

It turns out many of these plastic bags and bright latex balloons, some wishing a happy birthday, others saying “I Love You,” are landing in a very unlikely spot: the Sonoran Desert.

It isn’t just a few pieces of debris scattered around. According to doctoral student Erin Zylstra’s study, there are about 40-50 balloons per square kilometer, creating a high density of things not native to the desert.

Zylstra did surveys in two different areas of Saguaro National Park, one in the Tucson Mountains and one in the Rincon Mountains.

She originally went to the desert to study tortoises, but after being surprised by the amount of trash in the area, she decided to measure and record the density of trash in the desert. Her findings shed light on a potential risk to the historic desert and bring to light the effects of littering on the ecosystem.

Unlike other materials, plastic bags and balloons don’t degrade, but rather break down into little pieces that can fill water holes or camouflage food. According to Zylstra, they are on average six per square kilometer in one area and up to 35 per square kilometer in another. Although the exact effects of the garbage are unknown, it has great potential to harm the scenery, environment and wildlife.

The problem is not just about disposing of our trash properly, but also about becoming more mindful about the products we use that inevitably become trash someday. We need to understand that once we throw trash away, it does not simply disappear.

There has been a lot of talk about how harmful plastic bags are, but no action has been taken to ban them or limit their production. Plastic shopping bags have been reported to take from 500-1000 years to decompose, which is why other states have taxes on the bags, encouraging consumers to bring their own reusable bags.

At Washington University in St. Louis, the student government passed a resolution to ban of plastic bags on campus. Petitions for a bag ban are circling around Pennsylvania State University as well.

As other schools come out in support of the removal of plastic bags, the UA and the Associated Students of the University of Arizona should be trying to figure out how to limit the number of plastic bags on campus. The student body has to take action and do something. A small change can start right here on campus and spread throughout the community.

In the meantime, the next time you go shopping, skip the plastic bag and keep hold of the balloon.

-Razanne Chatila is a journalism and political science sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on twitter via @razanne92.


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