Tennessee leaders prohibit local governments from being able to issue bans on single-use pollutants

Last updated on February 3, 2024.

I know. That doesn’t make any sense.

I read this article and was thoroughly confused at first. Why on Earth would anyone vote for such legislation?

Front page article from the Chattanooga Times Free Press, showing a crumbled plastic water bottle below the title.
Front page article from the Chattanooga Times Free Press, March 8, 2019.

The physical copy’s headline is “Protecting Plastic” and is on the front page of the newspaper. The first sentence summarizes:

A surprise amendment to a state bill would make it illegal for municipalities to regulate, prohibit or charge a fee for many single-use plastic items that have polluted Tennessee waterways at an alarming rate.

This ridiculous measure was added on at the last minute. “The bill is being passed as an amendment to a totally unrelated bill, which pertains to county district boundary maps.”

The article, “Amendment to Tennessee bill would make it illegal for cities to regulate, prohibit or charge a fee for single-use pollutants,” explains that House Bill 1021 is just that. This would mean that there could be no single-use disposable plastic ban in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There could be no plastic bag ban in Knox or Davidson County. No city or county would be able to lead the way for the rest of the state with a ban. And the State of Tennessee, so far, has no interest in producing legislation banning these types of materials.

They are called “single-use pollutants” for a reason

Often made of plastic, single-use items are created specifically to be purchased and used only one time by the consumer. The consumer then disposes of the item. Even if the consumer recycled that item, we know that only 9% of plastics are actually recycled.

Many single-use items surround food, convenience foods specifically. Here, I define convenience foods like fast foods, processed and packaged foods, convenience store foods, and take-out foods.

Single-use items made of plastic include:

    • Straws
    • Disposable drink cups
    • Fast-food or take-out containers
    • Plastic utensils for take-out or fast food
    • Single drink bottles (soda, water, juice)
    • Coffee cups and plastic cups from coffee and juice bars
Photo of single-use disposal trash, mostly from food and beverages. Image by filmbetrachterin on Pixabay.
Photo of single-use disposal trash, mostly from food and beverages. Image by filmbetrachterin on Pixabay.

In addition to those, think of single-use plastic bags. Feel free to read my posts on the film Bag It or on one southern coastal town that took measures in 2018 to ban single-use plastic bags to protect the environment. I think we should be thinking the same thing, and I know many agree.

Plastic bag found in a parking lot not far from the Tennessee River.
I found this plastic bag in a parking lot not far from the Tennessee River. Photo by Marie Cullis.

“Shortly after the [City of San Jose] imposed its Bring Your Pwn Bag Ordinance in 2012, single-use plastic bag debris decreased by 89 percent in storm drains and 60 percent in creeks and rivers. Bag bans work.” -Anne-Marie Bonneau

The Tennessee River is already polluted with microplastics

In a study published late last year, a German scientist revealed at the Tennessee Aquarium’s Conservation Institute that there is an extreme amount of plastics and microplastics in the Tennessee River. More than other large rivers with larger populations. And that river leads straight to the Gulf, dumping those plastics into the ocean as well. So why would we stop local governments from trying to do the right thing by protecting the environment, along with human health? Why are we protecting plastic?

Plastic Powerade bottle floating in the Tennessee River, showing bridge and opposite shore in background.
Plastic Powerade bottle floating in the Tennessee River across from the Tennessee Aquarium. I was able to fish it out. Photo by Marie Cullis.

“Single use plastics clog our stormwater systems, pollute our waterways, kill wildlife and eventually result in microplastics in our water system,” the Tennesse chapter of the Sierra Club wrote. “Local communities know best how to handle their unique challenges with single-use plastics, and unless the state wants to enact a ban across Tennessee, the General Assembly should stay out of their way.”

Politics

Regardless of political party, if you’re a Tennessean, you are most likely connected to the outdoors. Whether it’s fishing, hiking, biking, climbing, or boating, Tennesseans love our outdoor activities. And we like to share them with the tourists who visit here. We want to protect tourism in large and small cities in Tennessee, many of which are connected to the Tennessee River. So what sense does it make to jeopardize our beautiful outdoor spaces by proposing legislation to make the environmental problems worse?

State Representative Susan Lynn explained that regulations and bans surrounding single-use pollutants should only be implemented at the state level. Local governments should not because they “stand to create a patchwork of very confusing local regulations that make it really hard to run a business and very expensive.” Obviously, I completely disagree. That leaves no place for one municipality to lead the way for the rest.

Tennessee Senator Mike Bell supports the bill as well. He advocates for uniform state regulations regarding business. He claimed in that article that Tennessee was rated “Number 1” in the nation for small businesses in recent years. I searched the internet to verify this information and was unable to find information. I did not that find a source that even places Tennessee in the top 5, including reputable sources such as Forbes and Fortune.

Another supporter of banning plastic bans

Grant Kidwell, the Director of energy, environment, and agriculture task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), said he does not believe bans are the right way to deal with the pollutants. ALEC is a non-partisan voluntary membership organization of state legislators “dedicated to the principles of limited government.” However, placing a ban on bans at the state level is not limited government – isn’t that over-governing?

Kidwell’s work has focused mainly on energy, although he’s written at least one article before arguing that there are too many bad food and plastic bag policies. Even so, he wrote that “the type of container people use to buy food, clothes, or any other items is a decision that should be made by businesses and their consumers.” Great, let the people decide. But don’t stop them from advocating for a local ban through state legislation.

“We believe it’s better to try to improve public waste collection.,” Kidwell also said. Clearly, he does not understand that our waste management systems are broken. Or that single-stream recycling systems are inherently dysfunctional.

Photo of a fast food meal I had last year on the road. Plastic salad container with greens, plastic wrapped plastic utensils, a juice box, and condiments in plastic containers.
Photo of a Chick-fil-A fast food meal I had last year while traveling. I no longer eat at Chick-fil-A, and I now also try to avoid any restaurants that serve plastic and more plastic. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Oil

The real worry is that those protecting plastics are really trying to protect oil and natural gas interests. Plastics are made from both materials, petroleum and natural gas. Companies producing petroleum and plastic products will protect their interests, and often over any environmental or human health concern. The United States is the largest consumer of oil by nation, consuming nearly 913.3 million metric tons of oil in 2017. We are also the largest natural gas consumers in the world.

What can you do?

I called both of my representatives’ offices to oppose the bill, and my messages were “passed along.” However, I am sad to report that House Bill 1021 passed the House and Senate and Governor Bill Lee signed it into law on April 12, 2019.

But you can ban single-use disposable plastics from your own life. Avoid purchasing single-use products!

Feel free to leave me a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe. Thank you for reading.

 

Footnotes:

 

Homeschool Pre-K Lesson on Pollution & Environment

Last updated on February 3, 2024.

Colored pencils, writing workbooks, flashcards, and Brainquest game on a table. Preschool materials.
Photo by Taylor Heery on Unsplash.

In 2015, I began doing homeschool pre-k lessons with my son. I would put together little thematic lesson plans that we would do together one morning per week. Each lesson would usually incorporate art activities, sensory activities, books, play activities, and writing, all related to the topic of the week. I mixed these up with the occasional musical component, educational video, trips to a related museum/zoo/aquarium, and/or nature adventure.

In late 2016, I decided to introduce the topic of environmental issues and pollution. Even though he was only 3, I thought my son would get something out of it, and in retrospect, he did! So I thought I’d share some of the activities we did. Feel free to use or share any of these ideas!

Oil Spills

My son still recalls the activity where we put toy animals into blue water polluted by an oil spill. I was inspired by a blog post where they used feathers in their experiment.1 I added toy animals and showed how oil in the water stayed on the animals. Here’s what we did:

We started with plain blue water to represent the ocean.

We started with plain blue water to represent the ocean. I used Sargent watercolor magic to dye the water but you can use blue food coloring too. Place a towel under your container – it’s going to be messy and oily!

Next, I mixed cocoa powder with vegetable oil, as recommended by Almost Unschoolers. We started with feathers but then I quickly realized that he’d love playing with his toy animals even more.

My son experimenting with toy animals in the "oil spill."

We added a few more animals as we continued to play and experiment. He observed several times that the oil wouldn’t simply rinse off the animals or his hands.

My son experimenting with toy animals in the "oil spill."

My son experimenting with toy animals in the "oil spill."

My son experimenting with toy animals in the "oil spill."

My son had so much fun that he asked me to do it again several months later!

Recycling & Composting

Recycling sticker game from the Dollar Tree.I bought a sticker set from Dollar Tree which included four cardboard recycling cans with stickers. The cans represented plastic, paper, aluminum, and compost. My son took the stickers and placed them on the appropriate can and he only needed a little help. It was a fun activity to do together! You can find similar games or activities online.

 

 

Pollution Jar

The last activity we did was to create a pollution jar. I got the idea from Pinterest but cannot credit the blog because it no longer exists. I asked my son to help me choose pieces of trash of various types of materials. We chose different types of plastics, paper, string, etc. We did not use any food waste.

Our pollution jar.

Then we filled the jar with tap water and put the lid on.

Our pollution jar.

We kept this jar for over a year. Over time the materials did not break down, especially the plastics. While that may be obvious to an adult, this was new and interesting information for a preschooler. He thought it was cool. I will say that when I disposed of it, the smell of chemicals from that jar was disturbing.

Other Ideas

We took a walk along the Tennessee River for that lesson as well, just to notice our surroundings. What sounds did we hear? What animals did we see? Did we notice any litter along the river? We talked about how the rivers and oceans are connected; that oceans are full of life; that water and air are our most precious resources. Even if a young child doesn’t understand everything you’re explaining, know that they are absorbing some of it and admiring your knowledge.

Photo of my son at the Tennessee Aquarium.
We went to the Tennessee Aquarium!

If you search “pollution lesson preschool” on Pinterest or Google, you’ll find a ton of additional great ideas!

I hope you can use some of these ideas with your little one. Feel free to ask questions or leave your ideas in the comments below! Thanks for reading, and please subscribe below!

All the photos in this article, except for the top one, were taken by me.

 

Footnote:

Recycling: TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste Box

Last updated on February 1, 2024.

TerraCycle toy waste boxes, 3 sizes, with outset circle showing a rubber duck, legos, toy cars, and other toys.

For Christmas, I asked for a TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste box. They’re almost $100, so I didn’t expect that I’d actually get one, but I did (and thank you)!

I was super excited because in 2017 I’d signed up for a free broken toy recycling program through TerraCycle, sponsored by Tom’s of Maine. I sent what I had but for the next full year, I saved every broken toy I found. I asked friends to give me their broken toys too. However, Tom’s of Maine stopped sponsoring this program in 2018. I emailed them to ask why, and they responded that they had “decided not to re-run this promotion” with no further details.

I was disappointed. By then I had a huge box of broken toys, and I continued to add to the box, refusing to throw them in a landfill. So I added the TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste Box to my Christmas list.

Large brown cardboard box of broken toys. I collected and save broken toys for about 20 months.
I collected and saved broken toys for almost 2 years. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Broken toy contents.
Broken toy contents. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Damaged green, plastic baseball bat.
We had tried to extend the life of this plastic baseball bat by duct-taping it. But it was time to let it go. We got this before we understood how acutely broken plastic toys contribute to the waste crisis and ocean pollution. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Receiving my box

The box arrived in a large plastic wrap, which I was able to repurpose as a garbage bag (I stopped buying garbage bags in 2018). This is what the TerraCycle box looks like unassembled:

TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste box, flat on a hardwood floor.
TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste box. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Since the box is meant to be placed in an area for collection, such as at an office or a daycare center, it is equipped with handles on the sides, perforations at the top to drop items in, and a plastic bag inside.

I removed the plastic bag because it was preventing me from being able to fit everything (and I did repurpose that bag as well). I asked my husband, who is a master at packing, to assist because I was having trouble fitting everything, including that plastic green bat. We were able to fit 95% of it.

My husband helping me pack the box, sitting on the floor with toys and two boxes.
My husband helped me pack the box. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Full TerraCycle box with colorful plastic toys at the top.
We managed to get 95% of it in the box! Photo by Marie Cullis.

The few items that didn’t fit I placed in a bin in my garage, marked “Plastic Recycling.” It contains plastic items that are not normally recyclable. I plan to save up for an All-In-One Zero Waste Box from TerraCycle.

Ready to ship

The whole process was easy, including shipment. The purchase of the box includes the cost of shipping and comes with the label already on it. So I dropped it off at FedEx! It felt good to ship those items off after having collected and saved them for so long.

Thoughts on TerraCycle

I admire this company, its mission, and its founder. I like that they take non-recyclable items and make them into cool, useful, new products. I am grateful that they are creating great, visionary, and intelligent solutions!

While TerraCycle is only a small percentage of recycling options, you can purchase zero-waste boxes on their website. There are many types and sizes available. It is costly, but sometimes we have to pay now or pay environmentally later. Remember, we can all be the change in small ways.

You can also participate in their free programs by signing up through their website. I’ve participated in several of the free programs including contact lens product recycling; Brita filter recycling; and oral care products recycling. I had to save those things up for a long time, but I have a designated shelf in my garage for such items. I label bins with the name of the recycling or donation program. You can make a designated space too!

Image of my designated shelf for recycling items - white metal open shelves with bins and boxes and cans with labels on them.
My designated “transient” shelf in the garage. I collect items I can recycle or donate locally until I have enough to take or ship. In this image, there are a few unlabeled bins but they are all in use now. I’ve added a place for thrift store donations, the used book store, and a couple of TerraCycle programs. Photo by Marie Cullis.

But recycling is not the answer

It helps, sure, but Refusing certain products made of plastic and/or sold in plastic packaging is the key. We all must refuse these items, reduce the use of what we cannot refuse, and then recycle. So recycling should be the third option.

Only 9% of our plastics are actually recycled! That means 91% of our plastics are NOT recycled.

I love TerraCycle because it is a step in the right direction. However, using their programs does not discourage consumers from buying plastic products. In turn, it does not send the message to the corporations that they need to alter their plastic production and packaging.

So keep trying to REFUSE. Use TerraCycle and similar programs when you can’t refuse.

Landscape with rolling hills and mountains, a pond, green grass, and blue sky with white clouds. Wild flowers in foreground.
Earth is beautiful. Let’s keep it that way, image by Free-Photos on Pixabay.

I hope this was informative and I would love to hear about your experiences with TerraCycle recycling, or how you’ve stopped buying certain plastic items. Thanks for reading!

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor was I paid to review TerraCycle products.

Product Review: Osom Brand Socks made from Recycled Textiles

Last updated on January 3, 2024.

Array of Osom socks with packaging, blue hues.

What if I told you that you could buy upcycled socks, made from recycled textiles? Osom brand sells socks and other apparel that is made of up to 95% upcycled textiles. The company uses “high quality, upcycled yarns from discarded garments, reducing textile waste from going to landfill and the need for virgin fibers.” They use zero water or dyes in the process of making their yarns.1

By making high-quality upcycled clothing we are closing the loop in the fashion industry, the second largest polluting industry on the planet. -Osom Brand2

Disclaimer: I was not paid to review this product, nor does this post contain any affiliate links.

Good socks

I first heard about these when Osom Brand launched its Kickstarter in January 2017. By late 2018, they had an online store. I asked for these as a Christmas gift, and I was thrilled to receive them!

Images of Osom Cetus socks. Photo by me.
I love the subtitle, “Wear the Change.” Photo by Marie Cullis.
My Osom socks with whales design. Photo by me.
My Osom socks with whale design. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Overall, I am very pleased with these and I plan to order more. I’ll review the different aspects of these socks in a moment. But first, check out this video about the founder and company’s process:

Comfort

These are quite comfortable and they do not slip down as some socks do. I’ve seen one or two complaints about the elasticity of these socks since they are one size fits all (in a size range). Indeed they are not very stretchy compared to other socks. For me, once they are on, this is not an issue.

Price point

These socks cost between $16.00 and $18.00 per pair. While that cost is average, it may seem high compared to other socks made from new materials. But the cost to the environment is low.

Environmental impact

The company asserts that its process is waterless. It takes more than 700 gallons of water to produce a conventional cotton t-shirt, and that does not include the water it takes to grow the cotton. That’s enough water for one human to drink for 2 and a half years!3

Osom Brand does not use dyes or harsh chemicals, which prevents water pollution because there is no toxic waste being poured into drains or pumped into rivers. This process also reduces the use of pesticides, which harm the environment and pollute our waters.

Buying recycled textile products reduces textile waste. I’ll explain more about this below.

Materials

The materials are not 100% plastic-free. They are up to 95% upcycled textiles combined with small percentages of spandex and nylon (spandex and nylon are both plastic fabrics). The trademarked name of their fiber blended yarn is OSOMTEX and it changes based on consumer demand and textile availability.

However, the company is not claiming their yarns to be plastic or polyester-free. Their goals are to promote a circular economy in the textile industry. “At OSOMTEX®, we repurpose millions of pounds of discarded post-consumer and post-industrial textile waste directly from brands and supply chain waste streams to create high-quality upcycled yarns and fabrics.”4 Repurposing is a great way to support environmental and human health.

Packaging

The socks arrived almost plastic-free, except for the little black plastic holder at the top. I plan to write an email to the company to request they stop using the plastic holder.

Plastic hold from the socks. Photo by me.
Plastic holder from the socks. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Why is this a big deal?

We. Waste. Clothes.

In the United States, we throw millions of pounds of textiles into landfills per year – about 81 pounds per person! That does not include the heaps of clothing we donate, consign, or give away to friends and family.

In the United States “fast fashion” refers to our quick cycle of fashion trends changing. So we want cheap clothing. In turn, this means it is usually made cheaply and quickly. That same clothing wears out fast from wear and the harsh chemicals from fabric softeners and laundry detergents. Then we discard last season’s items as quickly as we can to “keep up” with the current styles. This cycle allows us to consume and shop more.

Clothing rack. Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels.
Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels.

We can do better!

What if we decided to buy less clothing that is higher quality? Or buy most of our clothing second-hand? Clothing that is more timeless or classic, instead of keeping up with fashion trends? This is an area where we all have great power to generate great change.

It takes a ton of energy and insane amounts of water to generate all of that new fashion.

Why buy recycled textiles?

I know some will say that only 100% natural, organic textiles are the answer, and I don’t disagree. There are problems with plastic microfibers reaching our oceans from just washing those fabrics in the washing machine. But with all that we waste, why not support visionary concepts like this?

There are many things we can do to make a difference.

I think that there is never just one answer or one solution to any environmental or social problem. Let’s all do what we can to be the change. We can buy less brand new clothing. Or purchase less clothing in general and snub “fast fashion.” We can buy clothing secondhand, or buy upcycled products like Osom socks. We can switch to a capsule wardrobe like Project 333.

Whatever you choose to do, just by starting today, will make a difference. Thanks for reading, please share and subscribe!

Footnotes: