- Published on Tuesday, 03 July 2012 17:26
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Cities such as Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California are repeatedly referenced as urban spaces where "things happen", or where environmental initiatives are constantly becoming more progressive.
But how do other communities become part of such an active think tank?
How can other communities become centers for brainstorming and actively creating policies that improve such pervasive environmental issues?
Reducing plastic and paper bag usage can urge cities to become more waste efficient and become more involved in future sustainable initiatives. Plastic bag bans and fees is one action-based program that compels communities into a state of higher awareness. Adrift plastic bags are the kinds of city artifacts that are commonly seen during people's commute and other day-to-day activities. Through programs that encourage step-by-step solutions, communities can become more mindful of how they affect their immediate environments and how their choices have a cascading effect on both neighboring and distant communities.
One of the main issues cities confront is how to reduce and manage accumulated waste. Plastic bags can block sewer systems and drains, making it more difficult to treat and regulate stormwater runoff. Toxic chemicals derived from the degraded plastic can be released onto ground surfaces and into waterways. Even recycling can become vastly more difficult since many recycling programs do not automatically accommodate plastic bags. Plastic bag reduction programs present cities with the opportunity to reduce a very common waste product and set a foundation for future collaboration between residents and city agencies.
The Successful Communities Online Toolkit Information exchange (SCOTie), developed by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Sonoran Institute, features cities in the Intermountain West and Western U.S. that are engaging in sustainable development. Best practices like those featured in SCOTie, offer local governments the opportunity to lead by example and encourage other like-minded communities to explore innovative planning policies and connect with local planners. Recently added, the Health and Safety section contains some different approaches cities are taking to reduce plastic and paper bag usage.
Aspen, Colorado's Ordinance, implemented on May 1, 2012, is an example of a straightforward plan that combines a single-use plastic bag ban and a 20-cent fee on paper bags used at checkout.
The City is encouraging regional consistency, which is predicted to strengthen the scope of this behavioral change. Although some worry that a plastic bag ban will increase the use of paper bags, the general opinion concedes that the fee is costly enough to discourage paper bag sales in the long run. The City also emphasizes the need to make the program self-sustaining. The plastic bag fee is being used to help fund Aspen's Waste Reduction Program. One of the programs focuses on purchasing equipment designed to minimize trash pollution, such as recycling containers.
Aspen's popularity with visitors also gives the City an opportunity to include tourists in future collaborations. Visitors will be subject to the new policy, and have the opportunity to provide feedback on how it is succeeding and how it can be improved. Bringing both residents and visitors into a city's planning stages can attract a wider variety of ideas which contributes to increasing the efficiency of waste reduction. Aspen's ordinance also urges other Colorado cities, such as Boulder, to follow suit. Boulder is now also considering instating a fee on plastic bags.
The City of Bisbee, Arizona is engaging residents in waste reduction through a six-month voluntary project that slowly introduces the community to plastic bag reduction. The program has been designed to give the City of Bisbee the flexibility to create a bag reduction program that extends to all non-reusable bags. After the six months, the reduction program will be monitored and assessed by the Council. If the City feels a fee on single use plastic and paper bags is needed to meet its waste reduction goals, the ordinance will unfold in three eventual phases. The first in the state, the fee would be another significant leap towards adopting more vigorous solutions.
The Arizona Food Marketing Alliance (AFMA) is collaborating with the City to raise awareness on plastic and paper bag recycling. The campaign is encouraging the largest store in the city, Safeway, to implement a "Bag Central Station". Bag Central Stations, which began in Phoenix and Tucson, are bins where residents can recycle their plastic bags. The AMFA also has begun teaming up with schools to start an education campaign on recycling. A recycling contest was developed for K-5th graders at Greenway Elementary School to promote better education on the effects of pollution in cities. The students collected 252 pounds of plastic or approximately 17,000 bags during the three week contest. Bisbee's educational campaign is another example that illustrates how communities can get residents thinking more enthusiastically about environmental initiatives for their city.
One of the most progressive examples of waste reduction is San Francisco, California. San Francisco is the first city in the United States to ban non-compostable plastic bag checkout bags in supermarket and pharmacy chains. Through the plastic bag ban, grocery stores were only allowed to provide recyclable paper bags, compostable bags, and/or reusable bags.
However, what truly makes the City an innovative urban space is its willingness to continually challenge residents to become even more efficient and mindful of their plastic use. The 2012 revision extended the "Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance" to all retail establishments and food establishments in the City. Growing litter problems in neighborhoods, parks and sewer systems as well as an emphasis on deceasing ocean pollution and urban pollution ("urban tumbleweeds") encouraged the City to restructure the existing ordinance. In order to spread the message into neighborhoods, SF Environment is partnering with grocers and local non-profit groups to hold reusable bag giveaways. Customers participating in the WIC or food stamp programs are exempt from the bag charge. A fact sheet created by the San Francisco Department of the Environment further explains the effects of the updated ordinance.
All three communities highlighted above are at different checkpoints on the path to "zero waste". However, as a whole, these examples emphasize that the path to successful sustainable development is not seen in one kind of process. Confronting waste accumulation in a series of steps can strengthen a community's belief that they can implement solutions based on collaboration between many different organizations and city agencies. Inter-departmental cooperation and policies that draw influence from community involvement sets the foundation for adopting other successful planning practices.
For additional information:
For a comprehensive list of plastic bag laws according to each state go to Plastic Bag Laws.
Developed by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Sonoran Institute, SCOTie is a user-friendly clearinghouse of smart growth and successful policies from western communities. Follow updates on Twitter @SCOTieToolkit. Blog post by Carolyn Flower, SCOTie intern.