By Mathew Passini
Single-use plastic items come in many forms. People are probably most familiar with plastic bags from the grocery store, “Styrofoam” to-go containers for food and drink from restaurants, and (my most hated) brittle plastic utensils, often wrapped in plastic, that accompany takeout meals.
These disposable plastic items are toxic to produce and can be toxic to living things. Single-use plastics are made out of petroleum products and are just about impossible to recycle. Plastic never biodegrades; it just breaks down into smaller plastic particles becoming the modern nuisance called “microplastics.” Recently, plastic pollution has been found in the deepest part of the ocean, the most remote land on earth, and even inside the tissues of living things.
Two progressive Representatives sponsored bills to help remedy the plastic pollution problem in Montana. Rep. Ed Stafman (D-Bozeman) introduced HB 413 which would have repealed a law passed by the 2021 Montana Legislature, HB 407. This 2021 bill originated from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – a nonprofit, ultra-conservative group dedicated to writing and sharing template legislation throughout the country – and prohibited local governments from limiting or banning auxiliary containers such as plastic bags, to-go boxes, gas station cups, etc. Unfortunately, Rep. Stafman’s 2023 bill failed in the House Local Government committee.
Rep. Marilyn Marler (D-Missoula) brought HB 638 into the House Natural Resources committee to phase out the use of polystyrene foam containers (i.e. “Styrofoam” to-go boxes) on a state-wide level. Just like Rep. Stafman’s bill, the testimony on HB 638 featured more proponents than opponents. However, Rep. Marler’s bill also failed to make it out of committee.
The science is clear. Plastic items have only been widely used for about 50 years, but they wreak havoc on public health and the environment. When legislators stick their heads in the sand with regards to plastic pollution, people will suffer as they find themselves surrounded by toxic bits of plastic and Styrofoam. MEIC will continue working with other committed individuals and groups across the state to fulfill everyone’s fundamental right to “a clean and healthful environment.”
This article was published in the March 2023 issue of Down To Earth.