Monday, July 14, 2014

DC bans the foam

It's summer, so we'll take a short trip to the south…

In a marathon session before summer recess, the DC Council held its final vote today on the Sustainable DC Omnibus Act of 2013, unanimously passing 11 environmental measures, most notably a ban on polystyrene foam food containers. While dozens of cities on the West Coast have enacted such policies, DC is the first major city on the East Coast to do so.

Polystyrene is a major contributor to trash pollution, comprising roughly a quarter of the volume of trash collected at trash traps in Anacostia River tributaries. It breaks into impossibly small pieces, making it difficult to collect, and recycling is not viable.

The ban, which takes effect January 1, 2016, will cover carryout food containers like cups, plates, and clamshells from restaurants, grocery stores, and takeouts. In 2017, all disposable food service ware in the city, including lids, straws, and utensils, will have to be recyclable or compostable.

The bill was amended today to remove meat trays from the list of banned items. The amendment also requires that the District conduct a study of trash on the Anacostia River by 2016. The ban is not contingent on the study, and it could prove very helpful to demonstrate how effective trash reduction activities have been since the last major study in 2008. (Ongoing tracking of material caught in traps shows trends--like reductions in plastic bags.)

Trash Free Maryland director Julie Lawson worked closely on the campaign, keeping TFMD members informed and identifying strategies for getting them involved. She also directly lobbied councilmembers, wrote an article for Greater Greater Washington, kept the issue on the forefront of social media, and worked with outside stakeholders to either garner support or keep them on the sidelines. The original bill language proposed an effective date of 2018; we successfully argued to move it up to 2016.

Thanks to the TFMD members who were instrumental in this victory, including Alice Ferguson Foundation, Anacostia Riverkeeper, Anacostia Watershed Society, Clean Water Action, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and the DC Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. Thanks also to our DC partners, DC Environmental Network and the Sierra Club DC Chapter.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Press Release: Maryland Improves Access to Public Space Recycling

Supporters of SB781 at the bill signing, including Senator Karen Montgomery, second from left, and Elvia Thompson of Annapolis Green, second from right, back row. Photo via Creative Commons license, courtesy of Executive Office of the Governor.

ANNAPOLIS (May 5, 2014) -- Today Governor Martin O’Malley signed legislation requiring public events in Maryland to provide recycling.

SB781, drafted by Senator Karen Montgomery (D-Montgomery County), requires organizers of all special events on public property, attended by 200 or more people and providing food or drink, to have recycling containers located next to each provided trash can. Event organizers also must demonstrate a plan for collecting and recycling the material. The law takes effect October 1, 2014.

“By making recycling at events more convenient, people will more likely choose to recycle,” said Senator Montgomery. “They may start expecting and demanding recycling to be made more available in other areas as well. I hope this bill will stimulate future plans for recycling receptacles in public and commercial buildings in Maryland.”

“This new law will make it easier for event participants to dispose of their trash properly,” said Julie Lawson, director of the Trash Free Maryland Alliance. “Marylanders are already leaders in recycling at home. Now they’ll have better access to recycling when out and about. The more aware we are of how our trash is handled, the less litter we’ll have in our communities.”

The Trash Free Maryland Alliance provided testimony on the bill in committee hearings, supported by members with experience providing recycling to events in their communities. The Alliance’s testimony highlighted efforts by the Catoctin Group of the Sierra Club in Washington County, and by Annapolis Green in Anne Arundel County.

“Annapolis Green is delighted that Governor O’Malley signed SB781 into law today,” said Elvia Thompson, Co-Founder of Annapolis Green. “The requirement for recycling at large public events sends a clear message throughout the state that this is an important part of the Maryland’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gases by 25%, based on 2006 levels, by 2020.”

“We commend the foresight of Senator Karen Montgomery in sponsoring the bill and the hard work of Trash Free Maryland to see it signed into law,” she added.

Annapolis Green has, for the past two years, helped planners of special events—from boat shows to regattas to garden parties and crab feasts—reduce their waste by recycling and composting through its Responsible Events and Festivals (REF) program. REF includes not only providing the use of Annapolis Green’s distinctive “eco-stations” for special event use, but also providing tools for planners to use to educate eventgoers, exhibitors, volunteers, and staff about the effort and its importance.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mid-February Legislative Update

We are one month into the three-month session of the Maryland General Assembly. Here's a quick report on bills we are following:

SB707/HB718 Community Cleanup and Greening Act: This is the bag bill. This year we are proposing that all counties in the state receive authority to enact their own fees on disposable bags. Right now only Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Montgomery County have such authority. The bills are sponsored by Senator Jamie Raskin and Delegate Al Carr, both of Montgomery County.
Hearings: Friday, February 21, Environmental Matters Committee (House) and Tuesday, February 25, Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee (Senate)

HB1049 Prince George's County Authority to Impose Fees for Use of Disposable Bags: This is a local version of HB718, applying only to Prince George's County. The sponsors are Senator Paul Pinsky and Delegate Barbara Frush. We are waiting for a discussion and hearing to be scheduled in the County Affairs subcommittee of the Prince George's County House Delegation.

SB394 Statewide Container Recycling Refund Program: This is the container deposit, or bottle bill. It would create a system where the purchase of each bottle and can would include a five-cent deposit, refundable when the consumer returns the container for recycling at an authorized location. The bill is sponsored by Senator Brian Frosh of Montgomery County.
Hearing: Thursday, February 20, Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee (Senate)

HB405 Sales of Nonbiodegradable Cigarettes – Prohibited: This bill, sponsored by Baltimore County Delegate Jon Cardin, proposed to require all cigarettes sold in Maryland have biodegradable filters. While the intent of the bill is to reduce trash pollution, we had concerns for unintended consequences, and submitted informational testimony, described on our blog yesterday. The bill was heard in the Economic Matters Committee of the House last week but was already voted down.

SB56/HB240 Solid Waste Management Practices – Maryland Recycling and Landfill Diversion Task Force: This bill proposes a task force to study raising the recycling minimum standards and reducing maximum landfill rates for municipal solid waste in the counties. Trash Free Maryland is named as a participant in the task force, but because of a lack on consensus among Alliance members, we took no position on the bill. The sponsors are Senator Mac Middleton of Charles County and Delegate Steve Lafferty of Baltimore County. Hearings were held in Economic Matters and Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs on February 6 and February 11, respectively.

SB390/HB386 Illegal Dumping and Litter Control Law – Driver's License – Points: This local bill would allow Baltimore City to add the addition of 8 points to the driver's license of people convicted of illegal dumping while using a motor vehicle. Eight points is the same penalty applied in drunk driving and hit-and-run convictions, and generally results in an immediate license suspension. We supported the bill in hearings last week (in Judiciary and Judicial Proceedings), because stronger enforcement of litter laws will likely prevent the dumping in the first place. The bills were introduced by the Baltimore City delegation at the request of the mayor.
Updated 2/26: This bill would apply statewide, not just in Baltimore City. An amended version (lowering the points from 8 to 2–5) has passed the House and is now being considered in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

SB566 Littering – Mandatory Public Service: This bill, introduced by Senator Bryan Simonaire of Anne Arundel County, would add litter cleanup requirements to all littering convictions. The service requirement would be 8 to 24 hours, based on the quantity of trash littered.
Hearing: February 19, Judicial Proceedings Committee (Senate)

Monday, February 10, 2014

If only butts just went away...

Last week the Economic Matters Committee heard testimony and voted on on HB 405, which proposed prohibiting the sale of cigarettes unless the filters are made of biodegradable material. Delegate Jon Cardin introduced the bill to call attention to the significant pollution problem that littered cigarette butts pose to our neighborhoods and waterways. (In the 2012 International Coastal Cleanup, Maryland volunteers collected 10,243 cigarette butts!)

Making these commonly littered items biodegradable seems like a good idea to help reduce the amount of trash pollution that persists in our environment. Many smokers believe their used butts are biodegradable or don’t substantially contribute to trash pollution. As demonstrated in outreach and behavior change projects conducted by the Surfrider Foundation and Keep America Beautiful, however, many smokers do properly dispose of their used filters once educated on the real impacts. A public discussion of the current degradability of -- or lack thereof -- these filters could have positive impacts on behavior and litter in our neighborhoods and waterways. This bill could serve to stimulate that outreach.

But are biodegradable filters the answer? Maybe not. Our friends at the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project have some thoughts:

All littered filters are harmful to marine life. Regardless of what the filters are made of, they are designed to reduce toxic chemicals inhaled by smokers. A recent study in California demonstrated that the chemicals that leach out of used filters kill top smelt and flat-headed minnows. The chemicals from just one used filter killed half the fish living in a 1-liter container of water. Whether these filters are made out of cellulose acetate or bioplastics, the risks of toxicity remain.

Smokers might be motivated to litter more. Smokers who currently dispose of their used filters properly could revert to littering their filters if they know the filters are labeled as biodegradable. This predelicition was raised in focus groups conducted by the tobacco industry during other studies of the viability of biodegradable or filterless cigarettes.

“Biodegradable” filters still do not completely go away. Cellulose acetate filters use 12,000 strands of plastic to capture chemicals in tobacco. The material photodegrades but does not biodegrade; the sun breaks it into smaller and smaller pieces that are ingested by marine creatures or absorbed into the soil, but ultimately the strands still exist. Filters labeled as biodegradable are made of bioplastics, plastic-like compounds from plant origins like starch. Unfortunately bioplastics are also not completely biodegradable, particularly in the water where the surrounding temperatures are generally too cold to promote degradation.

One option could be to require filterless cigarettes. Filters may give smokers false assurances of the safety of smoking and delay cessation efforts. By removing the filters entirely, we could reduce the problem of toxic litter as well as the public health threat of smoking overall.

Ultimately the bill failed this year, but we hope the issue continues to come up.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Baltimore: What Now?

Last night the Baltimore City Council voted down a proposal to apply a 10-cent surcharge on disposable plastic and paper shopping bags. The measure, sponsored by Councilman Brandon Scott, had the potential to significantly reduce litter in Baltimore neighborhoods by prompting most residents to bring reusable bags with them when shopping.

The Council voted 6-9 against the proposal. Councilmembers Scott, Jim Kraft, Mary Pat Clarke, Nick Mosby, Bill Henry, and Bill Cole voted in favor. Opponents, led by Council President Jack Young, asserted that the fee would be a burden on small businesses and low-income residents, in spite of research in nearby Washington, DC, that demonstrates the opposite effect.

As seen in DC and Montgomery County, a small fee on bags is a powerful motivator for people to switch from disposable to reusable. When we have less disposable plastic in the community, we have less disposable plastic as litter. Bags are a major component of trash polluting our neighborhoods and waterways. They may not always be visible in the water because they don't float, but we've all seen them in trees, and along stream banks and roads. They get stuck in storm drains and can cause flooding. They are hard to recycle because they tangle in machinery. Cleaning up this mess costs money -- and yet they are so easy to replace with a durable bag.

One common claim by opponents was that Baltimore lacked a comprehensive plan to address trash pollution. This claim is not entirely true. Over the past several years, Trash Free Maryland, Blue Water Baltimore, and our partners have worked with several council offices, the Office of Sustainability, the Department of Public Works, and the Sustainability Commission to identify priority challenges and best-practice solutions. Together, these efforts approach the problem from multiple angles and have the potential to dramatically improve the cleanliness of our neighborhoods and waterways:

- The Healthy Harbor Initiative and Blue Water Baltimore created a Trash Working Group to bring city agencies and nonprofit environmental and community organizations together to identify specific litter hotspots and develop collaborative campaigns to tackle neighborhood litter. Corner cans were recently installed in targeted neighborhoods, along with literature educating residents and businesses about trash collection days.

- Trash Free Maryland and its members have been working with council offices to develop and advocate for strong and effective policies to change behavior around littering. At the recommendation of the Office of Sustainability and other partners, we prioritized a bag bill over a polystyrene foam ban in order to maximize public education opportunities and make both programs more successful.

- Trash Free Maryland, Blue Water Baltimore, and the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper have collaborated with the Maryland Department of the Environment to develop a regulatory device to remove trash from the Baltimore Harbor and its feeder tributaries. This device, a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), encourages source-reduction and litter prevention programs as less expensive solutions to structural capture and removal tools, which increase in installation and maintenance costs over time without actually affecting public behavior.

We're disappointed that the City Council was misled by bad information and failed to take a proactive step toward a cleaner city. All three of these activities will continue in the City -- and all over the state of Maryland -- as our population grows, our use of disposable products increases, and the risk of litter and trash pollution mounts. Meanwhile more and more citizens are organizing and asking for change. Whether the City passes its own laws, or becomes subject to those approved in Annapolis, source-reduction and litter-pollution policies are coming.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Baltimore Bag Law: Clearing up some misconceptions

Gwynns Falls / Photo: Blue Water Baltimore
The Baltimore City Council may be voting on the 10-cent disposable bag surcharge this afternoon. Several letters from residents have run in the Baltimore Sun, and some of them reflect common misunderstandings.

Why a fee, not a ban?

Both approaches tackle bag litter by significantly reducing the number of disposable bags taken from stores. A fee allows people to decide: do I want to buy bags 10 cents at a time, or spend a dollar for one I can reuse for years?

Two advantages to the fee come from the fact that some people will continue to choose to use disposable bags. These funds provide both a safety net for disadvantaged residents, allowing the City to buy reusable bags and distribute them for free to those who need them, and the funds are available for broader environmental restoration efforts, expanding the impact of the law to more environmental needs.

Funds from the surcharge will also be available to pay for an education campaign to tell people about the law and the hazards of litter. Without these funds, such a campaign will require funds from another area in the City's budget.

A ban would only address the bags themselves, and the City would have to figure out ways to get reusable bags into the hands of people who can't afford them. Also, most bans around the nation still don't capture every disposable bag, because they don't apply at all stores.

How do we know the money will be used for these purposes?

The bill has been amended to clarify that the revenues will go to a sustainability fund. This dedicated fund requires a charter amendment, which will be on the ballot in November. Residents can also be confident that advocates will be aggressive in their oversight of this fund--we want this program not just to pass, but to work.

Why plastic bags? I see lots of other litter too.

We can educate people about the problems of litter generally, but to create significant behavior change, we have to target specific behaviors. Each component of litter is associated with different specific behaviors, so each component requires a specific approach. With bags, we can significantly reduce litter by encouraging reusable bag use. With beverage containers, we reduce littering and increase cleanup by making the bottles and cans worth something--a refundable deposit has been proven for decades to work. For cigarette butts, we need disposal devices that people don't fear will catch fire--and we need people to realize those filters are not biodegradable. The list goes on. Addressing disposable bags is just one piece of the puzzle.

Isn't this a tax on the poor?

Everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, can make the choice about whether to bring a reusable bag or not. The bag law will only affect your shopping bill if you choose to use disposable bags. Period.

Won't it hurt small businesses?

In DC and Montgomery County, no business has reported declining sales because of bag laws. Instead, most report significant savings because they don't have to buy as many bags. Only 8% of businesses surveyed in DC in 2012 oppose the bag law--and their reasons are because they feel their customers misunderstand it.

Baltimore, we can do this. We can change the perception that the city is dirty. We can get bags out of the trees, out of the storm drains, and out of our waterways. Please call your council member today and ask them to vote YES on Bill #13-0241.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Join us February 3 for our first Member Meeting & Training

One of our goals for 2014 is to help our fantastic members better connect with each other, and provide members with more resources to create effective campaigns. We have members all over the state, protecting local streams, teaching students, cleaning up neighborhood parks, and making compost. Imagine the power we have when we come together to work for the same goals!

Trash Free Maryland Alliance members are invited to our first annual member meeting and training, on Monday, February 3, in Annapolis. The event is free for all members--including staff, interns, board members, and volunteers. We have a great agenda planned out and can't wait to see you all!

Register by clicking here. More detailed info will be sent directly to registered individuals so please sign up by January 31!

If you are not yet a member of Trash Free Maryland (see the member list to the right), email Julie for more info about how to join.

Agenda

3:00-3:15 Introductions and Overview of Trash Free Maryland (Julie Lawson, TFMD director)

3:15-3:45 The Science of Plastic Pollution
3:45-4:00 The Psychology of Litterers

4:00-4:45 Policy Solutions to Litter
- TFMD Legislative Agenda Overview
- Container Deposits (Mike Smaha, Owens-Illinois)
- Disposable Bag Fees (Brent Bolin, Maryland League of Conservation Voters and TFMD co-founder)

4:45-5:00 Break

5:00-5:45 Making Your Voice Heard (Jen Brock-Cancellieri, Maryland League of Conservation Voters)
- Overview of the General Assembly
- How to Influence Your Representatives

5:45-6:00 Wrap-up

Thank you to Delegate Michael Summers (D-District 47) for sponsoring this venue!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Do plastic bags enable more littering?

Eastern Avenue, on the border between Washington, DC,
and Prince George's County, Maryland

I've been taking note of bags like the one above lately. Someone obviously cleaned out his or her car, using a plastic grocery bag to contain it all, and then left it next to the curb or alongside the car when driving away. I've certainly found bags like this during trash cleanups, and I've picked them up on the street. (I did pick this one up after taking the photo. It was mostly single-serve juice bottles and snack wrappers. Maybe the driver had done a road trip and this was the food bought along the way. There are no Wawa stores near where I found the bag, so it had definitely traveled.)

They generally don't fit down storm drains, at least not when full. Street sweepers might pick them up, but more likely the bags will be torn apart by animals looking for food, or they'll get run over (since it was left in the road), and the contents will scatter.

Clearly people who do this are thinking about what they are doing. The bags are tied shut, usually placed upright. This demonstrates what we learned in the 2008 littering behavior research that OpinionWorks conducted for the Alice Ferguson Foundation. In that study, admitted litterers participated in focus groups and psychoanalysis to get to the root of why they litter. In general, they feel a lot of stress and lack of control in their lives, so they try to keep their very narrow concept of their personal space tidy, to the detriment of the outside world. In other words, they keep their cars clean but don't think about where they put the collected refuse--so setting on the street outside their car is just fine.

At the same time, litterers know that the action is illegal; they just don't expect to get caught. So they tend to set the litter down instead of throwing it; they say, "the bottle wasn't broken when I left it there."

And so we end up with plastic bags filled with trash, neatly tied and set upright next to a car. Until, of course, it gets run over and the contents blow all over the place.

These bags also remind me of the American Progressive Bag Alliance's claim (yes, the trade group that represents plastic bag manufacturers) that 90% of people reuse plastic bags. This stat sounds great, except the vast majority of these "reuses" are one-time reuses, like picking up dog poop and lining household trash cans. I wonder how many people say they are reusing their plastic bags to clean out their cars, and then leaving the full bag on the road.

If we stopped using plastic bags, and instead used durable reusable bags for shopping, would it force these somewhat-conscientious litterers to change their behavior, to clean out their cars at gas stations or at home, where a proper disposal container is available?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The modern-day tumbleweed

The modern day tumbleweed – the plastic bag – blowing in the wind, and right into our waterways…

We have all seen them, every day of the week, whether on your way into work or out walking around, there they are: brown, white, blue, black . . . plastic bags fluttering through the air, stuck in tree branches, floating on the surface of the water, clogging up the storm drains. I know you are committed to reducing trash in Baltimore’s streets and waterways and are sick of seeing this eyesore – so let’s speak up today and let our City Council members know that we want policies in place to reduce the use of disposable bags (and polystyrene containers and to increase recycling while we are at it!)

Did you know that last year Travel + Leisure magazine ranked Baltimore the third dirtiest city in America?! Now, more than ever is the time for all of us to support efforts like Councilman Brandon Scott’s bill (13-0241), which would set a nominal fee on disposable plastic and paper bags; a proven and effective measure for reducing disposable bag use and litter.

Your City Council representatives are holding a bill hearing on January 21st at 9:45 am. Look up which district you live in, if you don’t already know, and please call or email your member of City Council today and let him or her know that you support this measure – you care about clean water, stronger neighborhoods, and the health of our City!

As Councilman Scott has been quoted, “We have more plastic bags in the streams than fish. If you go to a park in my district, all you see is plastic bags." This is unacceptable and it is time we stand up and make a difference!

Disposable bag fees are not even a new idea – check out this great article about Hawaii’s recent move to ban plastic bags, making it the first state in the country to eliminate this nuisance.

Don’t think your voice matters? Think again! As the article points out, Hawaii’s success came from local, grassroots efforts. The ban did not come from the state legislature but instead from the four County Councils. The article also notes that the plastic bag ban is only just a first step; if they were to enact a fee for paper bags as well, they would further reduce the use of disposable products.

We can do it Baltimore!!

- by Kristen Weiss, Blue Water Baltimore

Monday, November 11, 2013

Victory in Montgomery! For now.

The Montgomery County Council has put a hold on a proposal to reduce the number of stores required to charge five cents for disposable plastic and paper checkout bags.

In a committee work session last Monday, Councilmember Roger Berliner said his amendment aimed to "strengthen" the law by exempting some businesses from it. The bill passed 2-1, with sponsors seeking to rush it to a full Council vote before the end of the year. On Wednesday, following a phone conversation with County Executive Ike Leggett, Berliner changed course, agreeing to wait on further action until the County can conduct surveys and collect more data. He asked the Department of Environmental Protection to provide a report by Summer 2014.

The current law, in effect since January 2012, requires all retailers in the county to charge a five-cent fee for disposable plastic and paper checkout bags. Bill 10-13 would carve out retailers that primarily sell goods other than food, as well as plastic bags used for takeout restaurant food. Only stores that earn more than 2% of their gross sales from food would continue to collect the fee.

At a hearing in June, environmental and citizen groups, and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, largely opposed the proposed amendment, while small chambers endorsed it. Opponents argued that the bill language was unclear and that non-food store bags also pollute county streams and neighborhoods. One question was the definition of "food." Under the state sales tax code, "food" does not include alcohol, soda, or candy. This definition would exempt liquor stores and potentially many convenience stores from the law.

The lack of clarity on what stores would be exempted also troubled advocates--retailers do not currently report the breakdown of their sales to the County government, and even the Council attorney could only offer his best guess on whether stores like Target and CVS would be exempted. Advocates argued that the Council needed to provide a detailed list of the stores that would be exempted before taking action.

Hearing these comments, the committee did amend the bill to include alcohol in the definition of "food," but delayed making a decision on soft drinks and candy.

In addition to collecting bag sales and public opinion data, the delay also affords DEP the opportunity to conduct more outreach, including distributing free reusable bags in low-income communities and educating county residents and businesses on the positive aspects of the law--significantly fewer bags being littered, revenue for pollution prevention projects, and cost savings for retailers.