Plastic pollution is an increasingly complex problem with dangerous ramifications for the safety of drinking water, aquatic ecosystems, and public health. Twenty-three percent of plastic materials in landfills in the United States come from food containers and food packaging, and it makes up as much as 80 percent of the trash collected from the Anacostia River and Baltimore Harbor. Put another way, 269,000 tons of plastic pollution are from takeout orders with utensils like cups, plates, straws, and plastic silverware. Food businesses have a responsibility to reduce their contribution to plastic waste and, as technology evolves, it is becoming easier for them to do so. Here are some key statistics on plastic pollution and food businesses:
While these statistics are staggering, there is hope for food businesses looking to reduce their plastic footprint and lead the movement to decrease plastic pollution. A variety of guides, resources, and lists provide step-by-step tips to phasing out unnecessary single-use plastic and phasing in recyclable and compostable alternatives–that are becoming more cost-effective as more businesses convert. Tips and tools for food businesses to utilize in their quest for preventing plastic pollution include the following:
Plastic pollution is a daunting issue, but as we continue to raise awareness and share resources, businesses play a unique role in combatting and reducing plastic pollution. Be a leader in your community and take steps today to reduce your plastic footprint!
Download this article as a tipsheet to share with restaurants in your community.
So-called flushable disposable wipes have become a hot topic for many consumers, municipal services, and local governments. Despite them being marketed as “flushable,” these wipes do not sufficiently break down or dissolve after they have been flushed. Manufacturers continue to label wipes as flushable because a standard has not been defined within the United States, misleading consumers. In fact, flushable wipes cause serious damage to people’s personal plumbing in their homes and to citywide sewer systems, including blockages called “fatbergs.” Fatbergs are clogs formed from flushable wipes that haven’t broken down combined with oil, grease, and fat that get stuck in sewer systems and cause backups. In November 2016, employees of DC Water testified in front of the DC Council on the fatbergs caused by flushable wipes in DC’s sewer system; you can see detailed photos of fatbergs and read their testimony on the DC Water website.
According to DC Water, damages to sewer systems from these wipes can cost the city $50,000 to $100,000 each time, adding up to $1 million in local repair costs in 2014. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has stated that Canada spends $250 million annually on addressing issues stemming from flushable wipes within wastewater treatment plants. New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection estimates that it costs the city $3 million a year to clean these wipes out of the sewer systems.
Beyond wreaking havoc on sewer systems, these wipes release their plastic ingredients into the environment. Marine biologist Richard Thomas at the International Marine Litter Research Unit has discussed the similarities between these wipes and microplastics, claiming that they pollute marine life and habitat. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has also warned against the use of these wipes, and the flushing of these wipes, because of the way they break down into microplastics and show up in the stomachs of marine life.
In order to address the large discrepancy between the label on these wipes and their performance, the Washington, D.C. Council passed a bill in 2016 setting standards for flushable wipes and banning the use of that term on labeling if companies don’t meet these standards. The Maryland Senate passed a similar bill in 2017, though the House of Delegates declined to take action. The New York City Council also introduced a bill, with strong support from NYC Department of Environmental Protection, that had similar provisions. Unfortunately, the DC bill has faced significant pushback from industry, who claim that the standard they defined for flushable, is adequate. This industry pushback has gone so far as to involve Congress in DC’s implementation of their bill; Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD) briefly threatened to dismantle this bill through the appropriations process, ignoring DC Council’s autonomy in serving its residents.
With so many hurdles and setbacks these bills have encountered, cities and citizens are taking a different approach to standing up against industry’s false labeling. There have been discussions of class action suits against the companies marketing their wipes as flushable with citizens who have experienced plumbing problems and city agencies as the plaintiffs. Just last month a class action lawsuit was filed against Kimberly-Clark Corporation for property damage caused by their “Scott Naturals Flushable Cleansing Cloths” and for the mislabeling of their product. This lawsuit is in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Right here in Maryland we are exploring bypassing the legislative process to go straight to the culprit:
If you are a resident of Maryland and have experienced plumbing problems from flushable wipes, the Consumer Protection Division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office wants to hear from you. Those complaints can be made here. Depending on the responses from residents, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office may be seeking a similar route with a class action lawsuit to more effectively combat the increasing problems caused by industry’s interference with regulating these wipes. You can make your voice heard and help fight back against these detrimental products.
On Wednesday, June 28, Governor Hogan issued an executive order rescinding his predecessor Governor O’Malley’s executive order prohibiting new landfill permits and calling for an 85% diversion rate of trash in Maryland landfills by 2040 and a statewide 65% recycling rate by 2020. O’Malley’s executive order, issued in his final days in office, was grounded in stats that indicated residents of Maryland throw away more trash each year than any other place in the country. O’Malley also stated that this executive order would help reduce the burden trash places on taxpayers, greatly minimize litter, and conserve energy.
Hogan’s issued executive order completely repeals O’Malley’s zero waste executive order because, according to the Governor’s statements given to the Maryland Municipal League, Hogan felt O’Malley’s order placed an undue burden on local governments and stripped local authorities of their autonomy and control.
Wednesday’s announcement does not affect the bulk of the state’s comprehensive zero waste plan; the Maryland Department of the Environment continues its work on many of the 61 proposed initiatives. These initiatives, however, are voluntary; the teeth were in the recycling goals. Hogan’s announcement also insists that the state will maintain an emphasis on reducing, reusing, and recycling waste, but there has not been any further information released on those plans. According to MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles, the Governor’s new plan is about “changing the policy to be more collaborative” but “not changing the law,” as reported by the Baltimore Sun.
Hogan’s reckless executive order doesn’t adequately represent the concerns and needs of the Governor’s constituents. With Maryland on track to reach full capacity at its landfills in 31 years, this executive order is putting the residents of Maryland and the environment at risk. Recycling is a very popular constituent service and far cheaper than landfilling or incineration; rescinding those goals is counter to efforts many counties are already motivated to achieve. When more counties have high recycling rates, the systems become more streamlined, the materials become more valuable, and the whole state sees economic gains.
Recycling rates were at a standstill of 43% in Maryland before O’Malley issued his executive order, prompting ambitious long-term goals to increase those rates. These recycling rates will continue to be at a standstill without a clear plan to increase them. Furthermore, Governor Hogan’s claims that local governments felt burdened, justifying this executive order, are blatantly false. While county governments raised concerns in 2015 about the swift implementation of new landfill rules, state and local officials have been in negotiations together to meet the spirit of the O’Malley order. It is unclear who Hogan consulted when drafting the executive order or who he is trying to protect.
The board of Trash Free Maryland is thrilled to announce that TFMD co-founder and Executive Director Julie Lawson was selected for the Emerging Leaders Fund, a program of the Claneil Foundation to support innovative early-stage organizations.
The award includes significant unrestricted operating funding and access to a close-knit network of peers to support organizations as they grow. As the foundation explains, “recipient organizations are chosen based on their leader’s creative vision, leadership capacity, potential for impact, and commitment to innovation and learning in one of the following issue areas: education, hunger & nutrition/food system, health & human services, and the environment.”
“Julie’s passion and dedication have turned Trash Free Maryland into one of the leading environmental organizations in the state,” said board chair Karla Raettig. “The board is excited to see Julie’s work and leadership recognized in this way.”
[Julie here: Deep thanks to all of YOU for your support and energy over the past several years. I can’t wait to see what we can do now!]
For more information about the Claneil Foundation and the Emerging Leaders Fund, click here.
Singer-songwriter Jack Johnson has long been vocal about clean water, but since he joined The 5 Gyres Institute on the 2015 SEA Change Expedition to the North Atlantic Gyre, he has ramped up his activism. Earlier this year he released the film Smog of the Sea, chronicling his expedition and what he learned about plastic pollution.
And now he’s invited us at Trash Free Maryland to participate in his June 11 concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion! We’re thrilled for the opportunity to talk to his fans, but even more grateful for his generosity:
This summer, Jack’s Ohana Foundation is matching all donations to Trash Free Maryland, up to $2500. Can you help us meet this challenge? Your gifts will go twice as far to help us change behavior in Baltimore, show people how to sample for microplastics, and pass laws to reduce the use of single-use plastics.
And if you give in May, you’ll be entered to win a pair of tickets to his show! We’ll randomly select a name on June 1.
Click here to make a donation online. Thank you for your support!
We need your help to reduce plastic pollution in Maryland!
This winter, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a proposal to phase out polystyrene foam food packaging. These are the cups, plates, and clamshells you may see when you get takeout, or that you buy for picnics. They are a big problem in our waterways, as they break into tiny pieces, making them hard to pick up but also easy for fish to mistake for food. You can read a whole lot more about it here.
What can you do to help? Call your legislators, right now. Just type in your address and get a list of your legislators with a handy script, tailored to the legislator. Make four calls and let us know how they went. Many thanks to Surfrider Foundation’s DC Chapter for the awesome tool!
There’s been a lot of chatter lately the Montgomery County disposable bag law, questioning whether the current model is actually reducing litter or just raising money for county coffers.
As background, the Montgomery County law (effective 2012) is fairly similar to the one in DC (effective 2010)–both require stores to charge five cents for plastic or paper shopping bags at the point of sale, and remit most of the fee to the local government for environmental improvement projects.
DC did extensive research in 2012 and 2013 on the effectiveness of their law, demonstrating that residents were using 60 percent fewer bags than before the law, and that stores were giving out 50 percent fewer bags. The research also showed that the law was extremely popular with both residents and store owners; only 16 percent of residents and 8 percent of retailers opposed it.
Data from volunteer stream cleanups in DC have shown a 72 percent decrease in the number of bags removed from streams, parks, and other cleanup sites since the laws took effect. Montgomery County reductions are similar. These reductions haven’t emerged in any other jurisdiction in the region, so it’s likely the bag laws have created this effect.
Montgomery County hasn’t done any research on the effectiveness of their law, and councilmembers perceive public opinion to be low. The problem is, policymakers usually only hear from people with complaints; if you’re happy with the status quo, do you feel motivated to call and tell someone that? Probably not.
The County law also suffered a public relations setback early on, when revenues came back much higher than expected. We identified the reason why–the estimates were based on a faulty calculation of how many bags residents were using before the law took effect. You can read all the details about that here.
Revenue isn’t an accurate measure of the law’s effectiveness anyway. In 5 years, more businesses have opened. New residents have moved to the county. And it’s likely that more businesses are correctly reporting their fee collections now. Of course revenues would go up.
There are three key differences between the DC and Montgomery laws, though, that could be holding it back:
For that reason, it is still premature to declare the law a failure. It is demonstrably reducing litter in streams, but it could have much more public support if residents and businesses felt it was being implemented fairly and effectively.
Would an outright ban be better? Takoma Park just did it, and we advocated for a statewide ban in Maryland in 2015 and 2016. It could be, and if the Montgomery County Council prefers to try that approach, we are ready and able to help. Both models have their benefits, but the Council shouldn’t presume the fee is a failure when their only metrics are squeaky wheels and irregular revenue.