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Book Review: I am Not a Plastic Bag by Rachel Hope Allison

By Lavanya Sunkara
April 29, 2012
File under: Book Review, Conservation, Healthy Habitat

Have you ever thought twice about tossing that plastic bottle in the garbage? Or that handbag you threw in the trash because you got bored with it? Well, they don’t disappear into thin air. They appear in the middle of the ocean, taking on a new life of their own and hurting marine life.

Upon discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a few years ago, artist and illustrator Rachel Hope Allison was shocked. The patch is a giant destructive vortex of floating debris of human consumer waste that has been accumulating over the years. It lies in the calm seas between Hawaii and the California Coastline and is destructing to the marine environment.

Published by Archaia in association with Jeff Corwin Connect (co-founded by conservationist and Emmy winning TV host of Ocean Mysteries Jeff Corwin), Allison’s debut graphic novel I am Not a Plastic Bag is about this very real threat of the giant trash island. The novel is told entirely without words.

Explaining why she chose this topic for her debut novel, Allison said, “I remember being freaked out when I was a little kid when I heard about big problems like global warming and ozone layer. I didn’t know what to do with it. So I decided to write a story that is not all doom and gloom. This book has some whimsical moments too.”

Allison beautifully weaves the tale through colorful illustrations of objects— a supermarket plastic bag, a broken umbrella, a rubber ducky, a car tire—that make their way to the patch in the ocean and form a destructive island of trash. As someone who is passionate about science and wanted to be a marine biologist, Allison artfully portrays the interactions the trash items have with one another and their effect on marine life.

In the book, giant sea birds hovering over the debris get entangled in the remains of plastic bags, a giant squid barely escapes getting caught in the mess. Realty is worse. There have been numerous accounts of beached sperm whales discovered with stomachs full of plastic debris and fishing nets. Albatrosses, mistaking plastic pieces (also known as nurdles) for food that cause a sensation of being full starve to death.

In the foreword of the book, Jeff Corwin wrote, “The journey of discarded waste is wide-ranging and far-reaching. A flyaway sheet of plastic tarp may end up smothering a living boulder of coral reef, while a produce bag from a distant supermarket, masquerading as a jellyfish, could find its way into the belly of an endangered sea turtle.”

While the subject may seem hard to stomach, there are parts in the book that are beautiful and hopeful. And the message is clear- we can all do something to curb the damage. Allison hopes that “the book will get people excited about learning more about nature instead of being scared,” she added.

Even though US citizens take up only 5% of the world population, we generate 40% of our planet’s trash. “Your average American produces nearly 5 pounds of non-biodegradable material each day, which nationally adds up to about 200 million tons of long-lived garbage,” said Jeff Corwin in the forward.

He added, “The good news is that each one of us, no matter where you are from, or how old you are, has the power and the responsibility to keep our Earth clean.”

We can all make simple changes to reduce garbage. We can minimize use of plastic bottles, bags, cans and recycle whenever possible.

I Am Not a Plastic Bag is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and stores selling graphic novels. For each tree that is cut down for the printing of book, two trees will be planted.

Top Ten Items Found in Ocean Debris (information from Ocean Conservancy)

1) Cigarettes
2) Food wrappers/containers
3) Caps, lids
4) Cups, plates, forks, knives, spoons
5) Plastic beverage bottles
6) Plastic bags
7) Glass beverage bottles
8) Beverage cans
9) Straws/stirrers
10) Rope

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