SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment will remove plastic shopping bags at all its theme parks within the next year making it the largest theme park operator to make this commitment.
Park gift shops will offer paper bags made from 100% recycled paper or guests can choose to purchase reusable bags.
The company said this move will keep an estimated four million plastic bags from entering landfills and the environment each year. Approximately 1.4 billion tons of trash, including plastic bags, enters the ocean annually, the company stated. Wildlife such as endangered sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods.
"SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has a long history of actively supporting sea turtle conservation and rescues hundreds of these animals each year in the wild that have been impacted by human behavior," a SeaWorld spokesperson told PlasticsToday. "This change is natural for us and provides an opportunity to communicate to guests how they, too, can help make a difference for these animals."
The company began exploring the concept at SeaWorld San Diego in 2011, when the park discontinued the use of plastic gift bags to mark the opening of its new Turtle Reef attraction.
"The response to this commitment from team members, guests and the general public has been extremely positive," the spokesperson said.
Will other theme parks follow suit? Walt Disney World has considered switching to just paper but according to the Orlando Sentinel, the company found that "plastic bags are more durable and that humidity can make it difficult to adequately store paper bags."
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, headquartered in Orlando, FL, owns and operates SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld SanAntonio, SeaWorld San Diego, Busch Gardens Tampa, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Discovery Cove and Aquatica in Orlando, Adventure Island in Tampa, Water Country USA in Williamsburg and Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA near Philadelphia.
"This is a significant change for our company, one we hope will provide a model for our industry overall," said Jim Atchison, president and CEO of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. "Eliminating plastic bags is an important statement about our commitment to the environment, as well as the need to help protect marine animals from debris. It also allows our guests to play a direct part in making a difference on our planet."