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[1THING] Blog: Archive for February, 2016

[ A Solution for Plastic Pollution in NYC ]

A Solution for Plastic Pollution in NYC

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polandeze/Flickr

 

Guest post by Will von Geldern of EarthShare of New York member charity New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (NYLCVEF)

Since their creation in the 1960s, plastic bags have plagued cities. Despite their supposed usefulness, their proliferation has interfered with the wellbeing of ecosystems and municipal functioning – so much so, in fact, that the United Nations has called for an effort to stop producing them. Because the damage done by plastic bags greatly outweighs the benefits, some cities have sought to either tax their usage or ban them altogether. Can New York City follow suit?

A Nuisance for Animals and Humans Alike

Plastic bags first arrived on the scene in the 1960s when petrochemical companies sought a use for the by-products of natural gas. Swedish inventor Sten Thulin first filed a patent for bag material in 1962, and though the public remained reticent to accept the new product, by the 1980s they became a cheap alternative to paper bags. At the time, many saw the use of plastic bags as a means of avoiding the destruction of trees that paper bags entailed.

In the decades since, plastic bags have had an obvious, detrimental effect on the environment. Because they do not biodegrade, plastic bags have immense longevity, taking as long as a millennium to break down in landfills. They can choke animals, and waterborne bags have carried invasive species to new areas. Because animals cannot digest plastic bags, an ingested bag can kill or interfere with their bodies’ functioning.

In cities, sanitation departments struggle to pick up all the bags that flutter in the wind, and even if properly discarded, plastic bags can follow air currents, spreading them across large areas. Although in theory people can reuse plastic bags, the world goes through more than a trillion annually. In New York City, so many plastic bags get disposed of improperly that it interferes with regular recycling.

What Have Other Cities Done?

With New York currently weighing the options of banning or taxing the use of plastic bags, policymakers have looked to other parts of the country for guidance.

Most notably, California moved to ban the bags statewide until a petition by trade groups forced the measure to go to a vote in 2016. In Chicago, an attempted ban ended in disappointment when retailers utilized a loophole in the law to continue using bags. The Village of Hastings-on-Hudson in New York, meanwhile, faced a lawsuit in response to its attempt at a ban.

In Washington D.C., by contrast, the implementation of a five-cent tax per bag cut the number of single-use bags from 22.5 million monthly to just three million, and all while raising $2.5 million for other environmental efforts. For this reason, some have argued that fees have a better chance of success than outright bans.

To Fee or Not to Fee

The question of whether to ban bags completely, or simply tax them, has remained a contentious discussion. The sweeping nature of a complete ban, as evidenced by the current controversy in California, makes it a somewhat impractical option.

By contrast, a 10-cent bag fee would cut down on their use immensely without running afoul of industry advocates. Further, as seen in Washington, D.C., the revenues accrued from the endeavor would help to fund other environmental initiatives.

Attempts on the other side of the Atlantic have shown similar successes for the tax model. In both Wales and Ireland, fees for plastic bag use cut their prevalence down by 96 percent and 90 percent, respectively. For this reason, NYLCVEF has advocated for a fee in New York City and will continue to do so in communities across the state.

Learn more:

Cities Winning Against Plastic Bag Pollution, EarthShare

Plastic Bag Bans and Fees, Surfrider Foundation

The DC Bag Fee Is Cleaning Up the Anacostia River, Anacostia Watershed Society

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[ “Sportsmen’s” Act would erode bedrock conservation laws and policies ]

Michael Reinemer

“The Wilderness Society, along with numerous other national conservation groups, opposes H.R. 2406, ‘Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act of 2015,’” said Alan Rowsome, Senior Director of Government Relations for The Wilderness Society.

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[ Act now: Ask the Department of the Interior to help stop pollution and waste on our public lands ]

Natural gas waste is a major contributor to climate change, as oil and gas companies release methane, a super pollutant, into the atmosphere. From 2009 to 2014, enough natural gas was intentionally wasted on federal lands to supply over 5 million households for a year!

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[ VIDEO: Rare wild jaguar in southern Arizona ]

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[ President Obama to designate three new national monuments in the California desert ]

Andrea Alday

The new monuments – Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains – include Southern California’s highest peak (Mount San Gorgonio), the headwaters of its longest river (the Santa Ana), the longest intact stretch of the iconic Route 66, and many other important resources.

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[ New report reveals impact of underfunding for natural resources and conservation programs ]

Michael Reinemer

While President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal boosts spending in certain areas and the 2016 appropriations bill included some much needed increases for natural resources and conservation programs, much work remains to be done.

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[ Representatives introduce important bill to address carbon emissions from public lands ]

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[ “Scandal” star Darby Stanchfield speaks out to protect the Arctic Refuge ]

At more than 19 million acres, Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last great tracts of truly wild land left in the United States.

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[ Act now: Ask Congress to heed President Obama’s budget, invest in parks and conservation ]

President Obama’s proposal restores essential funding to long-neglected programs, including fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund and fixing the way we pay to fight wildfires. These programs are a win-win for our environment, public health and all Americans.

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