A bill filed ahead of this year’s legislative session would ban retailers from providing certain kinds of plastic bags and limit the use of plastic straws and foam containers.
Every year more than eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans, costing at least $8 billion in damages to marine ecosystems, according to a UN Environment report. Among the largest sources of this pollution are plastic bags and single-use plastics.
Bill Request 999 would ban businesses from offering customers plastic bags used to carry goods, though it would exempt plastics used to prevent cross-contamination for things like vegetables and meats. It would also ban foam containers, make plastic straws available by request only and ban the outdoor release of more than 25 balloons at one time.
Democratic Bill Sponsor Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville said plastic bags are unsightly and a danger to fish and wildlife.
“If you take a walk along the Ohio River or you’re outside, you see plastic bags just blowing around everywhere,” Marzian said. “We have to really protect this planet if we want it for our grandchildren.”
Opponents of the measure say a new law is unnecessary as retailers are already beginning to respond to changes in customer attitudes. Kentucky Retail Federation spokesman Steve McClain cited Kroger as one such example. The supermarket chain plans to phase out single-use plastic bags by 2025.
“Our members are making those changes without legislative oversight,” he said.
Eight states including California and Vermont have passed similar bans, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Meanwhile, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee are among the states that have banned the bans — prohibiting local governments from regulating the use of plastic bags.
Marzian’s bill faces an uphill battle in Kentucky’s Republican-controlled Legislature. Last year, a similar bill was assigned to the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, but never received a hearing.
Committee chairman and Republican Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence said he wasn’t familiar with this year’s bill, but said it’s likely too restrictive and wouldn’t stand much chance of getting out of his committee.
“Sometimes you can have a positive effect with filing a piece of legislation even though it may not get passed,” Gooch said. “I’m sure that’s probably what she’s doing.”
Gooch said he does believe that plastic pollution is a problem, but that it’s up to individuals to be better stewards of the planet.
This year the measure has to contend with a number of top-line issues facing the state including education funding, pensions and drafting a budget, said Bob Babbage, lobbyist at Babbage Cofounder.
“So wedging this into the agenda is part of the problem,” Babbage said. “You have to get high enough on the list to have your turn in the sun.”
One way to do that, Babbage said, is for voters to call their legislators and let them know this is an issue they care about.
“The legislators are very responsive to the people who elect them so it would help to have many voices behind an idea like this.”