On Dec. 4 the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland along with seven other local sponsors including the Bay Village Green Team, hosted a free public policy form on the topic of “Plastics & Lake Erie.” The forum was held at Rocky River Library and was well attended, with about 70 people in attendance. A video of the forum is available on Youtube, search “plastics and Lake Erie.”
The forum was moderated by Elizabeth Miller, who is an environmental reporter for Ideastream. The participants in the form were Jill Bartolotta, extension educator for the Ohio Sea Grant College Program; Crystal Davis, policy director for Alliance for the Great Lakes; and Erin Huber, executive director and founder of Drink Local Drink Tap.
The first topic discussed was the prevalence of plastics in Lake Erie. During beach clean-ups, 93 percent of litter found on the beach is plastic and of that 30 percent are plastic pieces, 15 percent are cigarette butts, and 11 percent are plastic cigar tips. Ohio beaches have the highest amount of smoking-related litter found on its beaches.
Health impacts of plastics were discussed next, and Erin Huber stated that every one of us is drinking and eating plastic every day. Recent studies on humans have found plastic in human feces. The problem of plastic in the Great Lakes affects each and every one of us whether we know it or not. Don’t think you can switch to bottled water to avoid it. Bottled water is bottled in plastic so you are drinking plastic then too.
You may ask yourself what can you do to help this issue and protect our water? First, contact your state senator to tell them you oppose the bill recently passed by the Ohio House, House Bill 625. House Bill 625 forbids local Ohio governments from imposing any “tax, fee, assessment or other charge” on plastic shopping bags or other “auxiliary containers.” This means that if a plastic bag tax were to happen in Ohio, it would have to come from the Ohio legislature, and I wouldn’t hold your breath for that. This “ban of bans” is short-sighted and ties the hands of local governments, such as communities on Lake Erie, from passing legislation that is right for them.
The state senator for Bay Village and Westlake is Matt Dolan and his number is 614-466-8056. Please let him know that you are a constituent and that you oppose the “Ban on Bans” because you believe local Ohio governments should be able to pass legislation that helps solve problems such as plastic in Lake Erie.
Over 60 countries worldwide have plastic bag bans. This includes Rwanda and Bangladesh. In Rwanda, your luggage will be searched at the airport for plastic bags and the bags will be confiscated. In Bangladesh, massive flooding had been occurring because of plastic bags blocking drains. A ban of plastic bags has solved that issue. Cities that enact plastic bag bans see an 80-90 percent drop in bag pollution.
Furthermore, Australia has recently cut its usage of plastic bags by 80 percent within only three months! This drastic reduction was the not the result of legislation enacted by Australia, it was a business decision by two of their largest supermarket chains. They stopped handing out free lightweight plastic grocery bags and instead replaced them with reusable bags that they charged 15 cents for. It is estimated that 1.5 billion bags in Australia were prevented from entering the environment based on this one change.
What else can you do? Please talk to the managers of the retailers where you shop and let them know you would like to see them stop or severely reduce the amount of plastic bags they distribute. Imagine if all of the grocery stores stopped giving away plastic bags! Lake Erie would be healthier as less plastic would be entering it, we wouldn’t see plastic bags blowing around and hanging in trees, and retailers would save money in the end!
Please also check out the Plastic-Free Great Lakes toolkit from Alliance for the Great Lakes at greatlakes.org/plastic-free. The toolkit has background information on plastics in the Great Lakes and also outlines steps you can take as a citizen to help this issue. It offers tips on how to write a compelling letter to the editor; how to use digital tools to spread the message; how to organize and engage your community; and how to effectively communicate with elected officials.
Still looking for more action you can take? You can also talk to restaurants where you dine and let them know that you think they should not hand out plastic straws unless they are requested. This is a simple change that would prevent millions of straws from entering our environment.
My favorite analogy of the night was when Crystal Davis equated the plastic problem to a diet. You can’t just stop eating junk and start eating salads and expect the weight to come off immediately. It’s a series of good decisions that add up. If you are consistent with eating a salad instead of a cheeseburger over the course of a year, you will see your good decisions amount to weight loss, even if you slip up on occasion and eat that cheeseburger.
If you refuse single use plastics such as bags, straws, water bottles, etc., those individuals choices will add up to a lot less plastic entering our environment and waste stream. So please, refuse the straw, refuse the plastic water bottle, and refuse the plastic bag!
You can do it, and don’t worry if you slip up and forget sometimes; remember, it’s your series of good decisions that will create the biggest impact in the long run.