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What if Columbus was a Zero Waste City by 2040? Sound impossible? Interestingly enough, a city with about 30,000 more people aims to reach that goal by 2020. San Francisco has a landfill diversion rate of over 80 percent. A “green team” is employed to ensure residents and businesses help clean up their city and a massive composting program was created to reuse food waste that then is used as fertilizer. Green jobs and nutritious food would be a win-win arrangement to make Columbus more green.
  To some, a single object that best symbolizes towering landfills could be the notorious styrofoam take-out container, but the greatest image for throw-away culture today is the pitiful, plastic grocery bag. Columbus is considering measures to place a surcharge on such bags or to even, potentially, ban them. If the capital city adopts such initiatives, we will consciously decide to further care for our neighborhoods and natural landscape and to move towards zero waste.

Stagnate to Striding

  Columbus...we are the new kids on the block when it comes to a city-wide recycling program, but RecyColumbus has made big strides by diverting 25 percent of waste through recycling. Additionally, much of the High Street corridor is provided special brown receptacles so that bars and restaurants can recycle their glass. One can also easily spot any of the 120 public recycling containers when walking down that same stretch of road.

  Other encouraging steps have been taken to renew our city like the Green Spot Program. Green Spot works to educate residents and businesses to operate and behave differently in areas like energy and water conservation and reducing, recycling and composting waste. Recently, Green Spot partnered with the North Market and four Green Spot businesses within the Market (Katzinger's Deli, North Market Spice Shop, Stauff's Coffee Roasters and Taste of Belgium) by providing the businesses with re-useable bags with their names printed on them. Discounts are then given to shoppers who return with the said bags – an interesting marketing tool to promote re-useable bag use and to support local green businesses.

  The Free Press spoke to Green Spot coordinator David Celebrezze about those bags and it sounded like this was a one-off project, but one would hope that such efforts like these continue until a more permanent solution is put in place.

Columbus' Plastic Bag Problem & Solutions in Other Cities

  Single-use plastic bags do not have a long “shelf life,” so to speak. In the 2013 report of Columbus' sustainable accomplishments, Mayor Michael Coleman stated that the average bag is in use for only 12 minutes, from the store to the trash. Further, Celebrezze said in a Columbus Dispatch article that our city is only recycling 10 percent of them. Nine out of 10 wind up in a landfill or even are caught in a tree, waving defiantly like a flag for consumption over conservation.

  Another point to consider is that plastic bags are produced from petroleum. In this present day, it is unlikely that, even if every single-use bag were eliminated, petrol would be left in the ground, but that same petroleum used to carry home our groceries could instead be used to make hospital or safety equipment. Reducing our carbon footprint extends even to our daily errands.

  From coast to coast, cities, and even an entire state, have enacted single-use bag bans or surcharges. And when a fee is in place, single-use plastic bags are dramatically reduced. In our nation's capital, a city-lead study study found an 80 percent reduction of plastic bag use after putting into place a $0.05 per bag surcharge. An independent study found a 67 percent reduction in Washington D.C. Looking at either study, an impressive decrease occurred after just three years.

  The motivation for D.C.'s efforts was to protect the Anacostia River, and with recent restoration efforts of our city's waterways, this is a perfect time to put similar measures into place.

  Kristopher Keller of the Clintonville Area Commission tells of a canoe trip down the Scioto River where he compares Spanish moss to the trees along the Scioto that are unnaturally adorned with plastic bags. That experience urged him to work with fellow commissioners to pass a resolution encouraging Columbus to issue a surcharge on single-use bags.

  Another voice that speaks out to protect our watersheds is the group Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW). Laura Fay of FLOW said that the organization supports “…reducing plastic in our environment in general.” Included in many of the facets of FLOW's purpose is helping coordinate cleanups. Laura spoke of the difficulty in collecting the bags since those white and brown blend in with the river bed sediment (side note – check out the Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed Facebook page for more information on the river cleanups happening on May 2 and June 13).

  Columbus faces a unique situation in enacting solutions to reduce plastic bags since no other Ohio city has either measure in place. Commissioner Keller feels that we are ready for such a transition, however. At the Graceland Kroger store, he points out there is a sign that says, “Did you remember your re-useable bags?” He recalled, “I remember seeing those signs several years ago. The industry is gearing up for it.” And there are business supportive measures in place in coordination with bans and surcharges.

  On the LA County “Ban the Bag” FAQ web page, it states that the $0.10 charge in place on paper bags is kept at the store so that they can comply with the ordinance.

  Being rid of plastic bags is an important step towards reducing out impact on landfills, and maybe one day, moving towards zero waste. In 2005, San Francisco studied the cost plastic bags had on the city and it was quite significant. The National Center for Policy and Analysis (a self-proclaimed leader in free-market public policy) even reviewed the figure, an annual cost of $2.5 million. With only 9,000 more people than Columbus in 2005, we were and are assuredly paying similar landfill, labor and litter cleanup costs. Bans, surcharges and re-useable bags are simple solutions to this problem. If the City of Columbus applies lessons learned from innovators across the country, we can mitigate our impact on mother Earth.

Please call 614-645-3111, Columbus' Information Hotline, to share your opinion on the issue

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