Plastic trash finding its way into digestive system of local wildlife

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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) The problem of free-floating trash in the Mat Su is not only an eyesore to some residents but also a stomach ache to local wildlife.

“Actually this is from a caribou,” said physiologist Bill Collins, holding up a bag of half digested grocery bags, sandwich bags and polyethylene rope.

Collins works for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at the Matanuska Experiment Farm. He studies the digestion of a number of rescued moose and caribou that live on the property, and said no matter how much he tries to keep the land free from plastic trash, the wind of the valley always seems to bring new waste over the property’s fences.

The evidence of new plastic waste is typically found inside the animals, particularly one moose that walks around with a stoma-like hole along its digestive system.

“We can pull this stopper out and do various nutritional studies,” said Collins, explaining that he occasionally takes the stopper out of the moose to see what she's been eating.

Single plastic consumption generally won’t kill a moose, but over time undigested plastics cause compaction, which can lead to health problems or even death.

“[The food] has to pass through an opening... and the plastic can block that opening and prevent the food from passing through,” said Collins, gesturing with his hand a digestive opening the size of the circle between his thumb and index finger.

The Mat Su Borough assembly is currently reviewing a ten cent tax on single-use plastic bags aimed at limiting its use and distribution. The tax would only levied against customers shopping at major retailers that gross more than a million dollars per year.