Plastic bans: questions and strategies to consider when launching your own plastic campaign.

Photo by Jordan Rathkopf

Photo by Jordan Rathkopf

After California, New York will be the second state to implement a plastic bag ban. Starting March 2020, single-use plastic bags will no longer be tolerated. Hallelujah! This news made us want to revisit a piece we published in Issue No. 4, in which Davis Burroughs and Mary Madison Andrews discuss the questions around plastic bans and strategies to launch your own plastic campaign.

Plastic is the hallmark of the modern world due to its convenience factor.

Most of us use and dispose of it every day without considering where that petroleum-based product came from or where it went along its destructive path.

Encouragingly, over the last year the world has been swept up in a small but growing tide of change against the exercise of sucking; plastic straws have been under the microscope of scrutiny, as people become more aware of the consequences of their actions. But straws are a small piece of a much larger plastic problem. And so it is also encouraging that in the U.S. this year, cities including Baltimore, Seattle, Surfside and Monmouth Beach have moved to enact some sort of single-use plastic ban or fee, joining the ranks of early adopters like Washington, D.C., and the state of California.

All good news, though it should be noted that without a massive cultural shift, technological revolution, or far-reaching policy intervention by governments worldwide, plastic will continue to choke wildlife, threaten public health, and prop up the world’s dirtiest industry: oil and gas.

To ban or to tax?

As far as policy solutions go, one of the most plaguing questions in the fight against plastics is whether they should be taxed or banned.

Just the mention of the word “tax” has the majority of the country up in arms and the remainder breaking out in hives. But while straw bans are all the rage these days, taxes on single-use plastics may be a more productive path forward. From England to Hawaii to Montgomery County, Maryland, plastic taxes or fees have been implemented with high rates of success. But what it mostly comes down to is the mindset of the citizens.

“In a culture like America, where freedom is deemed sacred (even though governments, business and the media regularly shape our behaviors and thoughts), preserving the perception of free choice is an important part of any successful legislation,” wrote Erik Assadourian, a senior fellow at Worldwatch Institute, an international environmental research group.

Whereas outright bans might be plausible in liberal strongholds, a tax can educe plastic consumption by similar rates and, as an added bonus, generate revenue to address other pollution issues.

Photo by  Isaiah Rustad

Photo by Isaiah Rustad

Tips to start your own campaign

If you don’t live in New York state and want to do something to ban bags around you, keep reading.

Ultimately, to savor the things you love in life, you have to save that which makes them possible. In many ways, love was the Trojan horse that felled the mighty plastic empire in the select few regions that have succeeded in drastically curbing single-use plastic consumption. Many plastic ban success stories began with the love someone felt for their home. They were tired of their once pristine landscapes being used as dumping grounds, so they took their grievances to their local legislators and, with a little grit and persistence, prevailed over hydrocarbon aggressors.

Maybe you’ve considered forming a legal Monkey Wrench Gang of your own. The idea may seem daunting: you versus the status quo. But it doesn’t have to be. There is no “silver bullet,” but according to Alex Truelove of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, when it comes to getting rid of single-use plastics, there are some courses of action that are more effective than others. Truelove suggests sticking to a familiar playbook: “good ol’ fashioned grassroots movements.”

To become a plastic crusader in your town, start by engaging your personal network. Talk to your friends and family to get some support for your grassroots movement. Next, contact local and state nonprofits who have the same vision and would be willing to back your cause by creating a coalition. Lastly, find a local legislator who will sponsor your bill (and help you write it) to tax the single-use plastic of your choice.

American University Professor Heather Heckel, an activism and advocacy expert currently working on a plastic upcycling project in Ghana, offered a different approach. Begin by talking with others about opportunities for reducing plastic in your community, she advised. Some questions to consider in those conversations:

• Could your employer stop selling plastic bottles?

• Could you ask your favorite restaurant to use plant based plastic products?

• Could your community or faith organization hand out reusable bags?

Likewise, Heckel recommends engaging local nonprofits to see if they are working on plastic in your area and to find out how you can help. And, attend city council and other political meetings to find out what environmental issues are being considered and which civic leaders are prioritizing plastic reduction.

“Creating change takes time, individual role modeling, community engagement and political will,” Heckel said. “But many communities have demonstrated successful paths forward on plastic. Together, we can all make a difference.”

So if the love you feel for your home is matched by your dismay of its mistreatment, then it is time for you to pick up the torch and lead your community toward a cleaner, more sustainable future.


This is part of a longer piece that was published in Issue No.4. Like what you read? Consider supporting The Regeneration by getting a [digital] single issue or signing up for a subscription.