Hawkins Calls for Plastic Bag Ban

Says Ban would be the Centerpiece of Aggressive Anti-Litter Program

Howie Hawkins said today that Syracuse should enact legislation to ban carryout plastic bags from local retail outlets. He said the city ordinance should also include a fee on all other carryout bags that are not re-useable, with at least part of the proceeds going to help pay for litter reduction programs.

“Plastic bags are an environmental and economic burden on our community. They create litter, harm wildlife, and pollute Onondaga Creek and Onondaga Lake. Even the most remote places on our planet are being overrun by plastic bags since they are so lightweight and are easily carried by the wind and water. Banning plastic bags is a simple step to reduce local solid waste costs,” said Hawkins, the Green candidate for Syracuse mayor.

“The city's excessive litter, especially from the ubiquitous plastic bags traveling down our streets with the breeze, gives a poor impression to visitors and potential new residents and businesses and is a demoralizing nuisance for current residents and businesses,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said the plastic bag ban would be the centerpiece of an aggressive anti-litter program that includes:

  • Strengthening litter laws and enforcement by police, corporation counsel, district attorney, and courts, with fines and sentencing violators to litter clean-up. Enforcement would include a focus on both the owners and customers of fast food establishments and corner stores.

  • Establishing a position of Litter Enforcement Officer funded by fees on nonreuseable carryout bags and litter fines.

  • More public trash cans in neighborhood business strips, at Centro bus stops, and in residential neighborhoods.

  • A public civic pride anti-litter campaign along the lines of Mayor Young’s “Dunk Your Junk” campaign in the late 1980s with its mock basketball backboards over the trash cans.

  • Youth jobs picking up trash (also part of Mayor Young’s anti-litter program).

  • More focus on litter clean-up from DPW, especially at the city’s gateways.

  • Insisting that NYS Department of Transportation frequently remove litter from I-81 and I-690 and their ramps.

  • Enforcing laws that require loads in trucks to be securely covered.

  • Urging residents to securely cover the paper in their curbside recycling bins.

  • Instructing DPW sanitation crews to pick up recyclables that fall out of bins on trips from the curb to the truck.

Plastic Bags Are a Major Environmental Problem

Hawkins said the plastic bag ban not only addresses the city’s persistent litter problem, but also addresses a major source of environmental destruction.

The Green Party around New York State has been active in enacting local laws to reduce the use of plastic bags. The plastic industry was able to get the governor and state legislature to block a plastic bag law in New York City that the Greens helped develop. But other communities have moved to enact similar plastic bag bans, including the villages of New Paltz and Larchmont, the town of Rye, the city of Long Beach, and Suffolk County. The nation of Kenya recently banned all plastic bags.

Other cities across the country have cut plastic-bag use by 60% or more, reducing litter and keeping the planet that much greener for future generations. New York City was forced by the governor and state legislature to continue to spend $12 million each year to dump 10 billion plastic bags in landfills. Many more bags get stuck in trees, storm drains, sewage-treatment plants and recycling machinery. Research shows that plastics originating from the land account for 80% of global marine pollution. They are a toxic ingredient of our sea life food chain. They are second worst on the list of deadliest marine litter.

Plastic bags cost about 3-5 cents each and that cost is then incorporated into prices of the items sold at stores. The cost of plastic bag cleanup is about 17 cents per bag. On average, taxpayers end up paying about $88 per year on plastic bag waste.

“We should not be harming our environment, spending our tax dollars, and littering our communities solely to protect the profits of the plastic industry,” said Hawkins.

The majority of plastic bags are made of polypropylene, a material made from petroleum and natural gas. Both of these materials are non-renewable fossil fuel-based resources and through their extraction and production, they create greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The production of plastic bags is also very energy intensive. To produce nine plastic bags, it takes the energy equivalent to driving a car more than one-half mile.

Plastic bags never decompose biologically. Instead, plastic bags break up into tiny particles, microplastics of 5 millimeters or smaller, that end up in the ocean to be consumed by wildlife. Estimates of plastic fragments floating within every square mile of the world’s oceans are as high as 1 million. In a few years it is expected that for every 3 pounds of fish harvested in the ocean, one pound will be plastic. 

After killing the New York City plastic bag law, the governor created a task force to develop recommendations for possible state legislative action. The task force has failed to hold any public hearings on the issue and only recently agreed to even open up its meetings to the public.

Hawkins said that in light of the decades long gridlock in the state legislature on needed reforms of all kinds, Syracuse should take the lead on banning plastic bags and other social, economic, and environmental reforms.

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Howie Hawkins is the 2017 Green candidate for Syracuse Mayor
Hawkins for Mayor