From hiking in Shenandoah to kayaking in the James River to swimming in the Chesapeake Bay, everyone can find an outdoor activity to enjoy in Virginia. Unfortunately, our current consumption of single-use plastics could prevent us and future generations from being able to enjoy Virginia’s great outdoors.
With plastic pollution getting more and more recognition every day, we know that it’s time to do something to prevent more pollution and preserve our natural spaces for future generations. But what can we do? A great first step to tackling the problem of plastic pollution in Virginia would be passing a statewide ban on polystyrene, or what is commonly referred to as styrofoam.
Polystyrene is one of the worst kinds of plastic waste, often used for cups and food containers. Plastics don’t biodegrade, which means they remain intact or just break down into smaller pieces. Plastic fragments have been found ingested by literally hundreds of species, including 86 percent of all sea turtle species and almost half of all seabird and marine mammal species.
“Nothing that we use for a couple of minutes should pollute our bodies of water for centuries,” said Elly Boehmer, Director with Environment Virginia.
Some companies are leading the way by phasing out plastic foam cups and takeout containers. By the end of this year, McDonald’s will phase out foam cups and containers worldwide, in favor of 100 percent recycled materials. Dunkin Donuts will phase out foam cups and containers by 2020. While these companies should be applauded for their efforts and commitment to sustainability, corporate commitments don’t go far enough. We need action at the state level, starting with Virginia.
Virginia is quickly reaching a tipping point– we now have state leaders that are ready to put the environment first. From Shenandoah to Virginia Beach, there is a lot worth protecting here. Our Chesapeake Bay has benefited from programs that work to protect and restore this special place. This progress is being threatened by what we use and what we throw away.
Our country started in Virginia, why can’t the first statewide ban on plastic foam be passed here?
Across the country, plastic foam bans have passed in more than 200 cities and other communities, from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine including Washington DC. These bans were not easy. The chemical industry has funded efforts to defeat bans like these including the American Chemistry Council, a trade group for the chemical industry. In 2015, the American Chemistry Council spent over $1 million opposing a plastic foam ban in New York City alone. The American Chemistry Council’s main target is Hawaii’s potential statewide ban on plastic foam cups and takeout containers, which could pass this year.
Virginia has a long and rich history. Looking around Richmond, we can’t ignore it. We drive over cobblestone streets downtown, past rivers that have been flowing for centuries, and can learn much more during a visit to one of our many museums. Not only is Richmond full of history, learning about our past is one of the city’s principles. With the rate at which we make, use, and throw away single-use plastics, our legacy will be foam cups and takeout containers. Something we use for five minutes should not be around to define a generation for hundreds of years to come. We can and should be doing everything we can to make sure that our legacy is something we can look back on with pride.
Virginia could pass a statewide ban on polystyrene containers from restaurants to help protect our waterways and our wildlife. A statewide ban on polystyrene containers will allow us to be one step closer to protecting Virginia’s wild places and paving the way toward reducing plastic pollution.