Unless you have been spending the past 10 years with your head in the sand, you know that our plastics problem has become a crisis. There are now 3 islands of plastic floating in the oceans, one island, dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Path is two times the area of the state of Texas. Every year 12.7 million tons of plastic enters the ocean. Our seas, rivers, and landfills are choking. Our wildlife is dying. Here are some of the depressing numbers:
- 2 million plastic bags are used every minute.
- More than ½ billion plastic straws are used daily.
- More than 50 billion plastic water bottles are used each year (yes, that is billion!).
- 500 billion plastic cups are discarded each year.
- Almost 40% of all plastic produced is discarded after a single use.
And plastic isn’t going anywhere, it takes 1,000 years to decompose. Today, only 5% percent of plastic waste is recycled. The cost of recycling plastic prevents it from being a viable product. China is now refusing to take our plastic recyclables.
Getting a handle on the plastics problem is a daunting task; but each of us can do our part. The three ways that we can help are: reducing single-use plastic, buying fewer products with plastic wrapping, and recycling. The simplest is to stop using plastic bags.
Unfortunately, voluntary use of reusable shopping bags is not happening. In November 2021, Plastic-Free Easton volunteers surveyed Easton’s grocery stores over a two-hour period. In a combined set of surveys, they discovered that over 85% of shoppers use plastic bags.
Since voluntary compliance is not working, communities are enacting legislation to reduce the use of plastic bags.
A number of states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, and Vermont—have banned single-use plastic bags. More are coming, in 2024, Colorado will ban single-use plastic bags and polystyrene foam takeout containers. Where states are slow to act, local communities are taking over.
Over 200 communities in the United States have enacted some form of restriction on plastic bags. The number of communities that are taking the plastic bag plunge is growing so rapidly that by the time this column is published more will be enacted. First a note about plastic bag bans…there are a myriad of different types ranging from ordinances which permit plastic bags, but require the purchaser to pay for the bags, bans for certain retailers, to complete bans. In this article, I am defining any ordinance attempting to reduce plastic bag usage as a “plastic bag ban.”
In researching this article, I was surprised how slow Maryland has been to get on the no plastics bandwagon.
As of January 2022, Montgomery County, Chestertown, Takoma Park, Westminster, Laurel, and Baltimore City were the only communities that had bans in place.
Then a little organization called Plastic-Free Easton got into the picture. Undaunted by the lack of success in Maryland, they organized a group and decided to see what they could do. I had the good fortune of interviewing some of the members (you can see more members on their Facebook Page), Marion Arnold, Elaine Tama, and Andrzej Miziolek (whose name I am committed to misspelling).
In less than a year, they were able to convince the Easton town council to unanimously pass a ban on most plastic bags. Little Easton became one of a few municipalities in Maryland to implement a plastic bag ban. Other communities have since passed ordinances that are not yet in effect, including Baltimore County, Salisbury, and Frederick. As I write this article, Anne Arundel County, and other communities on the Eastern Shore, buoyed by what little old Easton accomplished, are ramping up their efforts.
I have been on the losing end of environmental causes before, so I wanted to learn how they did it.
In a word…connection.
Then councilwoman, now mayor of Easton, Megan Cook; helped the group understand the importance of connecting with town council members, answering questions, and demonstrating the need for the ban. Using the blueprint from the Sierra Club, they took a survey that demonstrated how problematic the situation is in Easton. Plastic-Free Easton set up tables at local events and reached out to critical organizations. They were able to gain the support of the Talbot Watermen Association who saw the problem firsthand. Everywhere we look, discarded plastic bags are “decorating” our landscape and waterways.
Environmental organizations also supported the ban. Letters to the editors (by Marion Arnold) and an article in the Talbot Spy educated the public on the importance of this ban. And the public responded, calling their council members, and requesting their support for the ban.
Due to their successful lobbying efforts, in May 2022, the Easton town council introduced a proposed plastic bag ban and announced public hearings.
June 6th was the first public hearing…and the headline at the Star Democrat indicates how well their efforts paid off: Standing Room only at Council Meeting as People Stand in Support of Plastic Bag Ban.
Jeff Harrison of the Talbot Watermen Association, Richard Potter, president of the NAACP, and Alan Girard of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation supported the ban. A high school student and members of the community spoke out in support.
It wasn’t unanimous, the Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland Restaurant Association, and the Maryland Retailers Association spoke out against the ban. The National Plastic Bag Alliance sent guidelines to defeat a plastic bag ban. Respectful dissent is critical to the democratic process. To address the concerns of the Maryland Retailers Association, the council included a 10 cent fee for paper bags, paid to the retailers to help them defray the costs of more expensive paper bags.
On September 6, 2022, the Easton Town Council unanimously passed the ban.
Plastics-Free Easton (PFE) was the mouse that roared.
PFE members were even surprised at the overwhelming support. I asked them what their next steps were. “We are considering them,” they replied.
In summing up why they were so successful, Tama said it best. “The people of Easton recognize the value of our waterways and our responsibility to keep them clean.”
Bans on plastic bags are surging throughout the United States. Could we have turned the corner? Well, maybe not. Shockingly, eight states that have enacted laws to prevent local municipalities from enacting bans on plastic bags: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. I have no words.
But I am not discouraged, because I am convinced that there are thousands of groups like Plastic-Free Easton, dedicated to their communities. And special interest groups, regressive thinkers, and corrupt politicians are no match for these mice that roar.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.
Write a Letter to the Editor on this Article
We encourage readers to offer their point of view on this article by submitting the following form. Editing is sometimes necessary and is done at the discretion of the editorial staff.