Did you know? Tennessee leaders want to prohibit local governments from being able to issue bans on single-use pollutants

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, March 8, 2019.
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.

Thanks to the author, Mark Pace, for bringing it our attention. I hope this article motivates people to speak out against this ridiculous measure, which was apparently added on at the last minute.

The online article, “Amendment to Tennessee bill would make it illegal for cities to regulate, prohibit or charge a fee for single-use pollutants,” explains that the amendment 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 or in Knox or Davidson County. No city or county municipality would be able to lead the way for the rest of the state to ban these harmful materials. 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 produced, 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 food.

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 last year to ban single-use plastic bags to protect the environment. I think we should be thinking the same thing, and I know many of you agree.

Plastic bag found in a parking lot not far from the Tennessee River. Photo by me.
Plastic bag found in a parking lot not far from the Tennessee River. Photo by me.

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 and protect the environment, along with human health? Why are we protecting plastic?

Plastic bottle floating in the Tennessee River. I was able to fish it out. Photo by me.
Plastic Powerade bottle floating in the Tennessee River across from the Tennessee Aquarium. I was able to fish it out. Photo by me.

Politics

I do not care what political party you belong to, 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?

In the Chattanooga Times Free Press article, State Representative Susan Lynn explained that regulations and bans surrounding single-use pollutants should only be implemented at the state level and not local governments 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 business in recent years. I searched the internet to verify this information and was unable to find information that even places Tennessee in the top 5, including reputable sources such as Forbes and Fortune.

Another supporter of banning plastic bans

Last, 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 those business owners and consumers from advocating for a local ban through state legislation.

Kidwell also said that “We believe it’s better to try to improve public waste collection.” Clearly, he does not understand how the waste management system works nor that the single-stream recycling system is broken.

Photo of a fast food meal I had last year on the road. I now try to avoid any restaurants that serve plastic and more plastic. Photo by me.
Photo of a fast food meal I had last year on the road. I now try to avoid any restaurants that serve plastic and more plastic. Photo by me.

Oil

My 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 and that benefit financially from those 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. I will dedicate a separate blog post to this issue in the future.

What can you do?

You can call your representatives! I called both representatives’ offices on Friday, and I was told that my messages of opposition were “passed along.”

You can also ban single-use disposable plastics from your life.

Hopefully, conservation groups are fighting the amendment too. They were supposed to vote on it yesterday but I haven’t heard any new information about it yet. I’ll update this post when I find out news!

Feel free to leave me a comment below, just please try to leave partisan politics out of it. And don’t forget to subscribe! Thank you for reading.

 

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