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:

Healthy options to replace toxic fabric softener and dryer sheets

Last updated on January 28, 2024.

Selection of fabric softeners at the supermarket on shelves.
There are so many choices for fabric softeners and dryer sheets. But many contain toxic chemicals. Photo by Marie Cullis.

I was an avid user of dryer sheets for most of my adult life until around 2015. I liked that they removed static electricity, I thought my clothes felt soft, and I loved the way they smelled!

But then I found out how dangerous they are to our health. My mother mentioned it to me several times, so I began reading about the ingredients. I discovered that dryer sheets and fabric softeners contain hormone-disrupting phthalates, chemicals that damage the reproductive system, and compounds that trigger asthma. I just wanted clean-smelling laundry!

Toxic chemicals and ingredients

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “fabric softeners and heat-activated dryer sheets pack a powerful combination of chemicals that can harm your health, damage the environment and pollute the air, both inside and outside your home.”1 Fabric softeners are designed to stay in your clothes for a long time, so chemicals can seep out gradually and be inhaled or absorbed directly through the skin.2 Notice how the scent lingers on your clothing?

I learned that “fragrance,” a common ingredient in products ranging from shampoo to laundry detergent to baby products, is a term that refers to a range of chemicals. The EWG explains what this term means:

“The word “fragrance” or “parfum” on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.”3

Bounce dryer sheets were my household's choice for dryer sheets for many years.
Bounce dryer sheets were my household’s choice for dryer sheets for many years.

I used Bounce dryer sheets for more than 15 years. EWG rated these dryer sheets with a D, almost the lowest rating they use.4 The top-scoring factors were poor disclosure of ingredients; the product may contain ingredients with the potential for respiratory effects; the product can cause acute aquatic toxicity; and possible nervous system effects. EWG noted that “fragrance” was their biggest ingredient problem. Again, note that these problems are not only from scented products. Bounce’s Free & Gentle (free of dyes and perfumes) only scored a C on EWG’s Healthy Cleaning Guide.5

Selection of fabric softeners at the supermarket on shelves.
Photo by Marie Cullis.

Dryer sheets create extra waste

Additionally, fabric dryer sheets are harmful to the environment because they are designed to be single-use disposable items. They are not made of anything remotely biodegradable, and as litter, they remain in the environment indefinitely. There are many ways to re-purpose them, in fact, I used to reuse them for dusting. Unfortunately, I was exposing myself and my home to the chemicals a second time, and they still had to be thrown away. Like many other types of waste, they end up in rivers and oceans. I’ve certainly picked them up myself during litter clean-ups. I even found a dryer sheet woven into a bird’s nest in my own yard.

Used dryer sheet woven into a bird's nest.
Used dryer sheet woven into a bird’s nest. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Bird's nest with sticks, moss, plastic items, and dryer sheets woven in.
Dryer sheet pieces (and other plastics) woven into a bird’s nest. Photo by Marie Cullis.

“These sheets…made from plastic polyester material, are coated with synthetic fragrances, contain estrogen-mimicking chemicals, as well as fatty acids that coat the clothing and reduce static.” -Sandra Ann Harris, Say Goodbye To Plastic: A Survival Guide For Plastic-Free Living

White clothing articles hanging on a line outdoors, green grass and mountains in background, laundry blowing in the breeze.
Image by Willi Heidelbach from Pixabay.

So what’s the solution?

If you are worried about toxic chemicals harming yourself or your family, stop using them immediately. The EWG recommends skipping fabric softeners altogether.6 There are many alternatives – and they are usually zero waste!

Your clothes don’t need to smell perfumed. They will smell clean just from being washed.

Distilled white vinegar

Add a half cup of distilled white vinegar to your washing machine during the rinse cycle (or put it in the machine’s rinse dispenser ahead of time). The smell does not linger on clothes. This works especially well if you are line-drying your clothes. (I’ve read that you should not mix vinegar with bleach, so always be aware of what you are mixing.)

Line or Air drying

Line drying is the most eco-friendly solution. I have several drying racks and a short clothesline outside that I use weekly for some items. You can install a longer clothesline or umbrella-style dryer outside. This makes doing laundry weather-dependent, but there would also be a reduction in your electric bill. Additionally, the sun can remove bad smells from items because ultraviolet rays kill bacteria that cause the smell.

Sophie Benson, author of Sustainable Wardrobe, wrote that drying your clothes in the dryer eventually ruins the fabric. “Just 20 cycles of tumble drying can reduce the strength of fabric by 50%, compromising the durability and longevity of your clothes.” Avoiding the dryer is also best for the environment. “Air drying is also the best choice for the environment; by choosing air drying over tumble drying, you can save 36 kilograms (80 pounds) of carbon each month. Academic researchers have also found that tumble drying can release as many microfibres into the air as washing releases into waterways.”7

“Air-drying clothes reduces the average household’s carbon footprint by 2,400 pounds per year.” -National Geographic8

Line drying is an eco-friendly and healthy option for drying your laundry. Photo by Wolfgang Eckert on Pixabay.
Line drying is an eco-friendly and healthy option for drying your laundry. Photo by Wolfgang Eckert on Pixabay.

You can also invest in drying racks that you can use indoors and outdoors. I personally own three!

Drying rack, wood and white, in a gray painted room, window in background, white front loading washing machine in background, one striped shirt on drying rack.

Wool dryer balls

I use wool dryer balls for everything that I put in the dryer. These are either solid balls of felted wool or felted wool wrapped around a fiber core. They naturally soften laundry and reduce static. The balls also lift and separate clothes in the dryer, shortening drying time and saving energy. You can find them online or at some stores, just be sure you buy quality ones that are 100% wool and have good reviews.

wool dryer balls

Don’t over-dry

Static is caused by over-drying, plain and simple. Static especially happens when drying synthetic clothing, such as polyester, because they dry faster than cotton. If you don’t over-dry your clothes in the dryer, you shouldn’t have static.

Photo by Andy Fitzsimon on Unsplash.
Photo by Andy Fitzsimon on Unsplash.

I hope you found this helpful! Do you have a different method that I didn’t mention here? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear from you! As always, thank you for reading.

This post does not contain any affiliate links.

 

Additional Resources:

Article, “Skip the most toxic fabric softeners,” by Samara Geller, EWG.com, August 16, 2022.

Video, “Laundry Tips to Take Care of Your Capsule Wardrobe,” Be More With Less, accessed May 2, 2023.

Article, How Dryers Destroy Clothes: We Delve into the Research,” Reviewed, updated October 10, 2019.

Footnotes:

The end of single-use plastics in the European Union!

Last updated on January 28, 2024.

Globe showing Europe. Photo by Tom Grimbert on Unsplash.
Photo by Tom Grimbert on Unsplash.

This is exciting news!

The European Union has passed landmark legislation that will ban single-use plastics like straws, forks, and plates beginning in 2021. This is going to have a major impact worldwide!

According to a Forbes article, “The aim of the directive, which is part of the European Plastics Strategy, is to protect the environment and reduce marine litter by avoiding the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of CO2.” But it will also avoid an estimated $24.9 billion in environmental damages by 2030.1

Plastic is harmful to all life forms

Globally, plastics make up 85% of marine litter, according to the European Commission.2 The World Wide Fund reported that plastics account for 95% in the Mediterranean Sea. “And plastics are even reaching people’s lungs and dinner tables, with micro-plastics in the air, water and food having an unknown impact on their health.”3 It’s going through the entire food chain.

Illustration of clean vs. polluted ocean. Photo by Wild0ne on Pixabay,
Photo by Wild0ne on Pixabay,

Plastic production has increased exponentially since 1960, with the current global production of 322 million tons. That is expected to double or even triple in the next 20 years! Perhaps actions and legislation like this will reverse this growth and waste.

If you read my article about plastic straws, then you know that they are causing environmental problems along with many other single-use disposable plastics. Besides the sheer amount of waste, plastics are harming marine life and posing risks to human health.

Plastic waste and fishing waste are affecting our birds and marine life. Photo by A_Different_Perspective on Pixabay.
Plastic waste and fishing waste are affecting our birds and marine life. Photo by A_Different_Perspective on Pixabay.

Here are some facts from the WWF report on how marine life is harmed by human use of plastics:4

    • Animals mistake plastics for food.
    • Plastic releases up to 30 times more contaminants when it is present in body tissue like the intestines. Those contaminants can cause liver damage or hormone disruption.
    • Today 90% of seabirds have plastic fragments in their stomachs.
    • Over 90% of the damage caused to marine wildlife by human waste is due to plastics.
    • Globally, there are about 700 marine species threatened by plastics, some of which are endangered species.
    • Worldwide, 344 species have been found trapped in plastics! This can be fatal either from drowning or from becoming easy prey.
    • Plastics can cause injuries and deformities.
    • In general, all the fishing gear that is abandoned, lost, or discarded at sea (lines, nets, traps) causes damage to wildlife, trapping and killing fish and other marine animals – a phenomenon known as “ghost fishing”.
    • Plastics have also infiltrated the world of the microscopic. Zooplankton (the small organisms at the base of the marine food chain) involuntarily feed on plastic fragments smaller than 1mm. These fragments can contain toxic substances: by ingesting them the zooplankton transmit them up the food chain, all the way to humans.

The Blue Planet

If you love the Earth’s oceans, you’ll enjoy The Blue Planet series. In 2017, Blue Planet II was released and features the hazards of plastics on marine life. In the video below, David Attenborough, the writer and narrator of many BBC natural history documentaries, said he hoped that Blue Planet II would “open people’s eyes to the damage we are doing to our oceans.” I’m sure their contributions have helped!

Leading the Way

“Single-use plastics are not a smart economic or environmental choice,” said Vice-President Jyrki Katainen of the European Commission. “This is an opportunity for Europe to lead the way, creating products that the world will demand for decades to come, and extracting more economic value from our precious and limited resources.”5 It’s so refreshing to see leaders in the world making plastic waste reduction a priority!

Plastic waste on a beach. We can stop this from happening! Photo by hhach on Pixabay.
Plastic waste on a beach. We can stop this from happening! Photo by hhach on Pixabay.

Companies will listen to you

Here in the United States, know that you can take action too. Companies follow supply and demand. So if many people are demanding a company to use less plastic or provide reusable containers, the company will listen! Write, call, or email the companies you purchase from and ask that they use less disposable plastic packaging.

Recently, a few large companies including Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Pepsi, and Nestlé have introduced reusable packaging for certain products in an attempt to phase out single-use plastics. This is also for public relations because they don’t want to be viewed as giant contributors to the pollution problem. Better late than never, I guess. But this shows that they’re listening to us (or at least watching their sales)!

Refuse single-use disposable plastic! Photo by Elijah O'Donnell on Unsplash.
Refuse single-use disposable plastic! Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash.

What You Can Do!

The best thing you can always do is this: REFUSE plastic containers. I have stopped buying 90% of the items I used to because they only come in plastic containers. And my life is pretty much the same. Once in a while, I have to search hard for a product in glass or metal, but it’s just become the norm for me. You can do this too!

There’s got to be more change – we can do it! What are you currently doing to reduce or refuse plastic? Leave me a comment below!

As always, thank you for reading.

 

Footnotes: