Last year, buried in an omnibus spending bill, a state law passed prohibiting communities from enacting bans of plastic bags in their jurisdictions. Introduced this year, bills HF511 and SF1903 would remove that ban. Senator Dan Hall (District 56) seems intent on killing SF1903 through procedural moves. Why? A belief that local governments aren’t up to the task? Or that current handling of plastic waste is just fine?
Humans have always created trash heaps. In fact, they are key to archaeologists’ understanding of ancient societies. Today, instead of small trash heaps, we have enormous landfills, largely due to population growth, more possessions, and extensive use of petro-plastics made from natural gas or oil. Will future archeologists be overjoyed by the wealth of information, overwhelmed by the enormous sizes, or appalled at the thoughtless waste they demonstrate?
Only 60 years after petro-plastics were developed, they account for almost 10 percent of landfill space. They don’t decompose when buried and even though many could be recycled, they’re not. The US had been sending recyclables to China for processing into new plastics. Because they are no longer accepting much of it (too contaminated, not processable, ends up in Chinese landfills), that 10 percent will probably grow.
One trash heap isn’t even on land – it’s in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A collection of petro-plastic waste, 80 percent of it washed from mismanaged landfills and then swept by ocean currents into a floating garbage pile the size of Texas where sunlight degrades it into ever-smaller bits, some microscopic in size and now found in the fish we eat.
While plastics are indispensable in making many things that are either impossible or more environmentally damaging if made with natural materials, indiscriminate use of petro-plastics is a serious problem. Why use petro-plastics to make single use items like straws, cups, food trays, and packaging when using biobased (often corn) compostable plastics is possible? Target Field and The Mulch Store in collaboration are doing just that.
Plastic bags present a range of serious problems: few stores recycle them, they’re not compostable, they jam up single stream recycling equipment, end up in landfills, create an environmental mess, and kill animals or sea life. Why not use compostables (paper or plastic) or reusable cloth bags?
Pass HF511/SF1903 and allow local governments, who know their situations best, to choose which environmentally responsible method of handling of plastic bags works best for them.