Personal, Community, and Legislative Solutions to Plastic Pollution

Plastic Free Community Partners

We had a great turnout at the Plastic Free Forum on September 22 at the Great Falls Library! More than 60 Northern Virginia residents came to learn about reducing their plastic use and plastic pollution and to hear from experts on the science and life cycle of plastics and recycling.

Expert speakers included Senator Chap Petersen; Lori Arguelles, President and CEO of the Alice Ferguson Foundation; Dann M. Sklarew, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Faculty Fellow at the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, and Coordinator of Sustainability in the Office of the Provost at George Mason University; and our own Helene Shore, cochair of 350 Fairfax.

Senator Petersen with Susan Weltz and Bobby and Katie Monacella

Senator Petersen discussed his Plastic Bag Tax bill, which he encouraged Virginia residents to support by calling their legislators. “Limiting single-use plastic bags has got to be one of the top issues in the next few years. We’ve got to change people’s behaviors and expectations, and we need support from the small business community to make this happen,” he said.

“One of the points of passing the law that enacts a tax on single-use plastic bags is the education component. It helps people understand the effects of plastic pollution and encourages them form new habits to reduce their plastic use,” Petersen added. “But we can’t get this bill passed unless all of its supporters make their voices heard. Virginia residents need to tell their legislators that they want this; I encourage them to call frequently.”

Arguelles added to Petersen’s statements as she pointed out that 7 million pounds of trash have been collected from the Potomac River by her foundation since its inception. “It quickly became clear that cleanup is not the answer and recycling is not the answer. We need to stop plastic pollution at its source,” she said. “Change needs to happen from better policy and public education. We need to help people add another ‘r’ to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ and that’s ‘rethink.’ If people can rethink their plastic use, they can find new ways of going about their daily lives without creating plastic pollution.”

Arguelles, Shore, Sklarew, and Moderator Julie Kimmel

Sklarew and Shore explained how to approach this rethinking of plastic use. Sklarew brought and displayed the single-use plastic he had acquired in the past week, which he called eye-opening. “When I think about a trash-free lifestyle, it’s about what I eat and what I choose to purchase. Trying to figure out how to align my lifestyle with reducing plastic is the challenge, and it starts with awareness.”

Shore showed the lifestyle changes that make living plastic-free possible as she displayed metal straws, glass containers, fabric napkins and bamboo utensils. “There are always ways to avoid plastic,” she said. “You just have to get creative. There’s so much information out there about alternatives; it just takes a change in your daily habits, which is a challenge for the first three weeks but then becomes easy. That’s what the Plastic Free Challenge is all about—helping people make those changes in their habits.”

The Plastic Free Forum was in support of our October 30-Day Plastic Free Challenge. Sign up for the Challenge on Action Network and commit to 30 days of reducing your use of single-use plastics, like plastic bags, straws and water bottles.

If you sign up today, consider spending the next few days collecting your plastic waste, just like Sklarew did. We have a handy Plastic Inventory for this purpose. Find out what types of plastic you’re throwing away and where they’re coming from. Then come up with a plan for avoiding them.

Looking for some tips? As a Plastic Free Challenge participant, you’ll receive weekly emails and support along the way to forming new habits around plastic use. Find even more tips and advice under the hashtag #PlasticFreeDMV on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And check out this blog for Plastic Free updates on Mondays and Thursdays.

Bobby Monacella