Beyond Earth Day: The Fight for Plastic Bag Fees

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Folks around Ohio spent Earth Day picking up plastic bags, bottles and litter from parks and other areas, but efforts to prevent this type of waste pollution in the first place could be hampered.

Senate Bill 210 would prevent local communities from placing fees on disposable bags, bottles and other waste containers.

At DeSalle High School in Columbus, Michelle Maina worked on a class project about the need for bag fees. She contends disposable bags contribute greatly to landfill waste, litter the environment and harm wildlife.

"I have seen a great deal of concern of this issue in our generation," she says. "Each day we see pollution in our community, and if we don't take action now this condition will continue to deteriorate. In the future, I can't imagine how the world will look."

Maina and other students recently met with legislators on the Senate committee considering SB 210. While supporters of the legislation claim bag fees are costly for business and consumers, opponents say part of the fee would help the retailer mitigate any increased expenses. About five percent of disposable plastic bags are estimated to be recycled.

The city of Lakewood recently approved a resolution that supports a proposed 10-cent fee for disposable plastic bags in Cuyahoga County.

Council member at-large Tristan Rader says with more than three and a half miles of shoreline, his city is greatly concerned about the 5.5 million pounds of plastic pollution that contaminate Lake Erie each year. And he adds SB 210 is an attack on home rule.

"There's some people in Columbus that want to strong-arm municipalities and they're willing to forsake the constitution of the state to do that, and I think that's a gross misuse of the Legislature and the power that they have to act in Ohio's best interest," he laments.

Elissa Yoder Mann with the Sierra Club Ohio Chapter explains that addressing waste takes collaboration at the local level, as each community faces its own unique challenges.

"What we see successful is a partnership between businesses, local government and nonprofits who have curbside recycling and city waste pickup," she notes. "So taking a broad-brush approach to waste is not successful."

About 200 counties and municipalities across the U.S. have imposed a plastic-bag fee or banned them.
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