Editorial: A strategy for plastic

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

The city of Lawrence’s Sustainability Advisory Board is taking the right approach in trying to address the environmental hazards created by disposable plastic products.

The board recently voted to make reducing single-use plastics in Lawrence one of its top priorities and plans to form a community work group to study policies that can implemented effectively in the city.

The formation of the work group came in response to calls from community members to ban, tax or otherwise restrict plastic shopping bags. After hearing public comment on the issue, Lawrence-Douglas County sustainability director Jasmin Moore said the board decided it wanted to look at the topic more broadly and consider all single-use plastic products.

Single-use plastic products include bags, straws, food containers, cups and packaging. Shopping bags have been an environmental target for years because of their difficulty to recycle, the way in which they are easily dispersed by wind and the harm they cause to fish and wildlife.

Plastic straws have more recently emerged as an environmental nuisance. The environmental organization Get Green Now reports that Americans use 390 million plastic straws each day and that such straws are among the top 10 items found among plastic debris in the ocean. It takes 200 years for a straw to decompose.

As the Lawrence community group begins to look at policies that could be implemented here, there’s no shortage of models to study. Cities like Washington, D.C., Seattle and San Francisco have had some form of plastic bag restrictions in place for nearly a decade, resulting in reductions of 72 to 85 percent in the use of plastic shopping bags. In Massachusetts, more than 60 cities and towns have already implemented plastic bag bans, and Boston will implement its ban in December.

Miami and Malibu, Calif., have implemented bans on plastic straws, and New York City has proposed such a ban. Starbucks has pledged to eliminate plastic straws by 2020, and the coffee company is working with McDonald’s and other companies on NextGen Cup to develop a fully recyclable and compostable cup.

Moore said the Lawrence group’s research will look into multiple possibilities, including bans, fees and an incentive program for businesses that move away from single-use plastics.

The work group will conduct research on the topic, and answer a list of questions that the board uses to approach sustainability issues, Moore said. The board will consider best practices, financial implications and impacts on residents, among other factors.

It took years of worldwide plastics use to create the environmental problem the globe now faces. And it will take communities around the world working together to reverse the issue. Lawrence is smart to put together a community group to develop strategies that will work here.


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