It would be difficult to overstate the impact of plastic pollution on our world.
As the nonprofit group Earth Day Network writes on its website:
“From poisoning and injuring marine life to disrupting human hormones, from littering our beaches and landscapes to clogging our waste streams and landfills, the exponential growth of plastics is now threatening the survival of our planet.”
When most of us think of plastic pollution, our mind flashes to roadside litter, with used plastic shopping bags caught on fences or in trees, fluttering in the wind. That may be the most visible daily interaction with plastic pollution, but not the only or even most serious problem.
Far more dangerous to the health of the planet is the millions of tons of plastic debris floating around in the world’s oceans.
The Natural Resources Defense Council says this:
“Plastic, of course, is uniquely problematic because it’s nonbiodegradable and therefore sticks around for a lot longer (like up to 1,000 years longer) than other forms of trash. … Around 80 percent of marine litter actually originates on land — either swept in from the coastline or carried to rivers from the streets during heavy rain via storm drains and sewer overflows.”
Officials in Frederick County are aware of the issue, and are starting to discuss ways that local governments and residents might do their part to combat it.
Frederick County Councilman Kai Hagen has proposed an outright ban on single-use plastic, and the issue was the subject of a joint meeting this week of council members and the city of Frederick’s Board of Aldermen.
Hagen (D) told the meeting that he plans to create a work group made up of six to 10 people to look at the feasibility of a ban and related issues. He would like to have the group’s recommendations by next winter, he added.
The proposed ban drew some support as well as questions and criticism. We will have lots of questions for the work group as well.
Hagen speaks of banning all single-use plastic. There is an argument to be made concerning plastic shopping bags from stores, but what of other single-use bags, such as trash can liners or kitchen bags? What about food storage bags used in almost every lunchbox?
Some businesses would have a hard time quitting plastic bags altogether, and The News-Post is one of them. We deliver our newspapers in plastic bags because readers want the paper to arrive dry and readable.
Beyond the bag issue, a raft of single-use plastic is used in every medical facility, from Frederick Memorial Hospital to every single doctor’s office. Almost every sterile item is wrapped in plastic, and many of the tools themselves are made of plastic.
The grocery business uses a lot of plastic shopping bags, but many more products in the stores, from the salad bar to the spice rack, are largely sold in plastic. What would be done with them?
These questions just scratch the surface. The Hagen work group will have a tremendous task in figuring out how many facets of daily life will be affected. A winter deadline might not be realistic.
Alderman Roger Wilson, who attended the joint meeting, noted that the city of Baltimore has been attempting for months to introduce a single-use plastic ban, so far without success.
Some jurisdictions have attempted to address the problem by taxing plastic shopping bags, with mixed success. But it might be a place to start.
In the end, the county might discover that a total ban on single-use plastic is a very ambitious goal that may be beyond the capabilities of a city or county. It is a problem worth addressing, but we have our doubts that it can be done soon at the local level.