Statewide View: Minnesota can take lead in stomping out plastic pollution
Starbucks has moved to phase out plastic straws. The company announced July 9 it would eliminate plastic-straw use in all its stores by 2020. The transition will feature new lids that do not require straws and eco-friendly straws for certain drinks.
Minnesota must keep up the momentum created by this milestone decision.
Plastic pollution is a growing hazard for marine ecosystems and public health. It affects all bodies of water. Minnesota needs to implement a statewide ban to eliminate single-use plastics such as polystyrene.
Our culture of consumption encourages people to use and discard, often leaving our waterways to face the consequences. If this pattern continues, there may even be more plastic than fish in the ocean, by weight, by 2050. Plastic pollution kills thousands of marine animals each year from ingestion or entanglement and has impacted at least 276 species worldwide.
These plastics can even end up in the food we eat. As we ingest fish and mammals, we also ingest their contamination. Plastics contain toxins that are linked to cancer, birth defects, immune-system problems, and childhood developmental issues. And this contamination doesn't just affect ocean waters. A study conducted for an investigation by Orb Media in 2017 found that 94 percent of tap-water samples in the United States contained plastic fibers.
Plastic pollution also has economic effects, as it degrades maritime natural capital and overburdens our waste-treatment infrastructure. Studies estimate the impact is at least in the billions of dollars. Additionally, leaked plastics disturb natural systems, such as forests or waterways, causing clogged sewers and other urban infrastructure problems.
Given how serious plastic pollution is, more than 50 nations are working to reduce plastic in their solid-waste streams. Just this past June, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed the country to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022, the most ambitious plan of any nation yet. A report by the United Nations shows that government levies and bans, when adequately planned and enforced, are effective in limiting the use of plastic products. Therefore, Minnesota must utilize these strategies to enact a statewide policy of its own.
These actions aren't limited to outside the United States. For example, there are around 65 city or county ordinances in California that ban polystyrene food containers for food vendors, restaurants, and government facilities. Local polystyrene bans also exist in states such as Florida, Maine, Oregon, and Massachusetts.
These measures already exist in Minnesota in St. Louis Park and Minneapolis. St. Louis Park's policy, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2017, requires all licensed food establishments to use recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging for food and beverages intended for immediate consumption. These ordinances have diverted waste and saved money from reduced contamination in recycling streams. Similar statewide policies must be enacted in order to mitigate our plastic-pollution crisis.
Minnesota can take the lead in stomping out plastic pollution with the help of forward-thinking cities, businesses, and organizations — such as Environment Minnesota, which proposes a statewide polystyrene ban. Cities are implementing local bans, and businesses like Starbucks are fulfilling this initiative by eliminating single-use plastics now.
Minnesota must follow in the footsteps of St. Louis Park and Minneapolis, with the help of local businesses, to ensure both economic prosperity and environmental health.
Jayne Stevenson works for Minneapolis-based Environment Minnesota, a citizen-funded public-advocacy organization, and studies environmental science and policy at Stanford University in California.