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Natural Awakenings Richmond

Say No to Plastic Bags

According to National Geographic, “Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them.” More than 90 percent of single-use plastics end up in landfills where instead of degrading, they release microtoxins into the soil, end up as litter in our communities or collect in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch alongside discarded fishing gear that hurts and kills marine wildlife.  

Recently, there has been a push to focus solely on recycling to address the issue. Unfortunately, it’s a very small part of the solution. Only about 1 percent of single-use plastic bags are recycled and it fails to eliminate the harm caused to the environment by the manufacturing process. According to Katie Register, of Clean Virginia Waterways, “Yes, we have to recycle, but we can’t recycle our way out of this problem. If you walk into your bathroom and the bathtub is overflowing with water, the first thing to do is not grab a mop, you turn off the faucet, then you start cleaning up.” 

To encourage people to reduce single-use plastic consumption such as plastic bags, straws, food wrappers, containers and utensils, governments have been turning to legislation such as taxes or bans on consumer single-use items with success. According to Tax.Virginia.gov, “On January 1, 2022, grocery stores, drugstores, and convenience stores located in the cities of Roanoke, Alexandria or Fredericksburg, and the counties of Fairfax or Arlington, will be required to collect a new 5-cent tax for each disposable plastic bag they provide to their customers for their purchases.” In Henrico County, where the top litter item is single-use plastic bags, there is still insufficient support from its Board of Supervisors to implement the ordinance. The city of Richmond and other surrounding counties have yet to adopt the ordinance as well.   

Several local organizations are collaborating to raise awareness, garner support and encourage consumers to limit dependence on single-use plastics. The Rotary Club of Western Henrico County, First Unitarian Universalist Church, the Foundation for Family and Community Healing, and Bob Shippee, candidate for the 57th Virginia House of Delegates, will be distributing free, reusable tote bags at participating Henrico County Kroger stores on October 15 (while supplies last). The Richmond Audubon Society is also selling reusable totes for a nominal fee at their upcoming events. 

The goal is that by raising awareness about single-use plastic bags, consumers will become more educated about plastic pollution and encouraged to make other conscious choices that protect the environment. In addition to following the Sierra Club Falls of the James 10-Step Guide, individuals can consider opting out of junk mail, contacting their local officials to implement sustainable policies such as composting or asking Henrico County federal officials to tackle fishing gear pollution. Romy Sharieff, coordinator of the Say No to Plastic Bags Campaign says, "Small changes can have a ripple effect. Each person makes a difference, one decision at a time." 

For more information, visit Longwood.edu/CleanVA

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