A victory over plastics

Recently, Maine became the first state to ban polystyrene foam containers, one of the most environmentally damaging of single-use consumer plastics.

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Environment Maine, an affiliate of Environment America, campaigned for the bill’s passage, demonstrating support from more than 7,000 state residents. In the weeks to come, Oregon and Maryland may get similar bills across the finish line with support from other groups within The Public Interest Network, including the state PIRGs and our other state environment affiliates.

Single-use plastics are the shameful hallmark of our throwaway society, endangering aquatic life, wasting natural resources. and creating a mounting trash-tastrophe. In a single year, Americans throw out 25 billion polystyrene foam cups. Like all plastics, polystyrene foam never fully degrades. It travels easily through waterways and breaks into pieces, making it especially dangerous for wildlife.

Our network has a long history of challenging the throwaway mindset, from the Bottle Bill that MASSPIRG won in 1982 to the plastic bag ban that Environment California helped pass in 2016. As Dan Jacobson said in the California campaign, nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our environment for decades or even centuries. This year, in addition to Maine, Oregon and Maryland, we’ve backed other local and state foam container bans in six more states, plastic bag bans in nine states, and “plastic straws on request” bills in seven states.

We consider many factors when deciding what issues to work on. The first and most obvious is environmental consequence, which elevates climate to the top of the list. That’s why we have done and still are doing so much to reduce emissions from power plants, shift toward renewable energy, and electrify transportation.

But another consideration is the issue’s immediacy in people’s lives. The consequences of inaction on climate are existential—but it’s still relatively easy for most people to worry about that tomorrow. The plastics problem is more immediate. Every one of us sees plastic trash in our daily lives. Any one of us can choose today to not buy take-out in a plastic foam container or not use a plastic bag at the grocery store. Advocacy and organizing elevate these personal choices to a community level, and that’s what we’ve done, along with our allies, in Maine and other states. That makes a difference—not just on the plastics problem, but to people’s sense of agency and power. Every bit of agency counts when you’re trying to save the planet.

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