New Report: Plastics Threaten Puget Sound Wildlife

Media Releases

Groups Call for Ban on Plastic Bags

Environment Washington

Seattle, WA – Today, Environment Washington was joined by Julie Masura from the University of Washington Tacoma’s Center for Urban Waters and the Surfrider Foundation to draw attention to the growing threat of plastic in Puget Sound. Environment Washington released a new report, “Keeping Plastic Out of Puget Sound: Why Washington should Join the Global Movement to Reduce Plastic Bag Pollution,” the first of its kind to bring together new and unpublished research about the serious problem of plastic pollution in the Sound and its impact on wildlife.

The groups stated that plastics harm wildlife because animals can ingest them, choke on it them or be harmed by toxins. Last year, a beached grey whale was found in West Seattle with 20 plastic bags in its stomach, highlighting this terrible problem.

“Nothing we use for a few minutes should end up in the belly of a whale,” said Katrina Rosen, Field Director for Environment Washington. “We should ban plastic bags to protect Puget Sound wildlife.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • On Protection Island, a wildlife sanctuary in the Straight of Juan de Fuca, scientists from the Port Townsend Marine Science center found that more than one in ten gulls were eating plastic, including plastic bags.
  • UW Tacoma research discovered small pieces of plastic in every water sample taken in Puget Sound.
  • Washingtonians use over two billion plastic bags every year. Seattle uses 292 million. Only 6% of plastic bags are recycled nationwide.
  • At least twenty countries and more than 50 local governments in the United States have banned disposable plastic bags. In the Pacific Northwest Bellingham, Edmonds and Portland have banned plastic bags.

Julie Masura from the University of Washington Tacoma’s Center for Urban Waters has researched plastic debris in Puget Sound over the last eighteen months. “Every environmental sample I have collected from surface waters and beach sediment has contained a form of plastic,” said Masura. She said that researchers are now focused on figuring out how the plastic enters the Sound.

“Our Plastics Study showed that plastic particles are everywhere in our marine environment,” said Ann Murphy, Executive Director of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.  “We must do something to reduce plastic waste and stop polluting the diets and nests of marine creatures. Once we take this step we will wonder why it took us so long.”

The groups stated that in order to reduce plastic pollution, cities and counties in Washington should ban disposable plastic bags. The Seattle Times reported earlier this week that the Seattle City Council may consider a ban soon.  

“Reducing consumption of single use plastic bags is something that we all can do and that we know will have an immediate and direct benefit to the health of Puget Sound and to all the world’s oceans and coasts,” said Jody Kennedy of the Surfrider Foundation.

Environment Washington and the Surfrider Foundation have been working to gain support in Seattle for a bag ban.  Thus far, the groups have gathered hundreds of public comments, and the campaign has been endorsed by more than 70 businesses.  Olympia, Lake Forest Park, and Mukilteo are also actively pursuing a ban on disposable plastic bags.   

“To protect orcas, seals, and salmon, Seattle should ban disposable plastic bags,” said Rosen.


Environment Washington is a state-based, citizen-funded environmental advocacy organization working for clean air, clean water, and open space.