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City of Columbus Begins Research on Plastic Bag Restrictions

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea City of Columbus Begins Research on Plastic Bag RestrictionsPhotos by Jesse Bethea.
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Following recent bans and restrictions on single-use plastic bags in several states and municipalities across the country, the office of Mayor Michael Coleman is resolved to formulate a similar policy for Columbus. How exactly to protect the city from being polluted by plastic grocery bags is a task which has fallen in part on David Celebrezze, Columbus’ GreenSpot Coordinator.

“The GreenSpot program was started by Mayor Coleman in 2008,” said Celebrezze. “It’s meant to inspire, educate and recognize households and businesses that adopt green practices.”

Residences and businesses participate in the program by committing to certain sustainability practices, such as conserving water and energy and reducing waste. Businesses also commit to reducing energy used in major transportation, as well as informing and engaging with employees about conservation practices.

GreenSpot also piloted a neighborhood program this year, awarding the Discovery District as the first GreenSpot neighborhood of the program. In addition, the organization has established a kids program, encouraging elementary school teachers to incorporate sustainability into the classroom and providing reading materials for students.

Partnering the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District, GreenSpot has started a rain barrel program, which Celebrezze said they are looking to expand over the next year. The program provides residences with rain barrels, which collect and store rainwater for gardening, at a discounted rate and teaches owners how to install and use them properly.

“GreenSpot really encompasses a lot of different aspects of sustainability as well as outreach to the community and green initiatives,” said Celebrezze.“We work with the community to bring them together and to give them options for what they can adopt and give them the resources needed to make those commitments a reality.”

Recently, however, the environmental focus of the Mayor’s office has turned toward the issue of plastic grocery bags, which pollute trees and waterways, cause harm to wildlife and are, by their single-use nature, wasteful.

“The Mayor wants to do something on this issue,” said Celebrezze. “It’s an issue that we’ve heard from the community on and agreed that we need to do something.”

Though Mayor Coleman is resolved to develop a policy to reduce plastic bag use in Columbus, Celebrezze said the city is still in the very early stages of researching the problem and potential solutions.

“It is something that we’re still getting feedback on and we want to hear the business community’s input, we want to hear the community’s input on this issue,” said Celebrezze.

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Plastic bags are already a focus of the GreenSpot program; in the residential GreenSpot application, people can make the commitment to use reusable bags when they go shopping. Celebrezze said GreenSpot has had over 5,000 people make that commitment.

“If each of those people uses two reusable bags a week for a year, you’re looking at, I think, over 4 million plastic bags that are not being used,” said Celebrezze. “It’s 4 million less plastic bags that are going into our environment, that are ending up in our streams, ending up in our streets or in our neighborhoods.”

Plastic bags not only cause a local litter problem, but the production of the bags from petroleum often releases toxins into the air, creating a global environmental hazard. In addition, Celebrezze said that the recycling rate of single-use shopping bags is very low, less than 10 percent, and Rumpke, the city’s principal recycling service, does not recycle plastic bags.

One of the most important factors for Celebrezze is crafting a policy that is “right for Columbus.”

“We’re looking at other cities too,” said Celebrezze. “We know that Austin, Texas has put a ban in place, Chicago has a program in place, Washington D.C. has a program in place, the whole state of California has banned not only plastic bags but some other types of plastic as well, and that was preceded by a lot of towns and cities in California.” Still, said Celebrezze, “What works for Chicago might not work here, what works in D.C. might not work here.”

GreenSpot has not held any public forums on the plastic bag issue but has reached out to neighborhood commissions and community groups for feedback.

“As we move forward, nothing’s off the table in terms of getting feedback from the community and businesses,” said Celebrezze. “We want to make sure we hear all sides, we want to make sure we craft something that’s suitable for the city.”

Celebrezze said it’s hard to say when a policy could be proposed by the Mayor’s office or what such a policy might look like. Options ranging from an outright ban, to a ban with certain caveats or a five or ten cent surcharge on plastic grocery bags could all be considered. In the meantime, as GreenSpot and the Mayor’s office continue researching the issue, Celebrezze is encouraging residents and businesses to provide the city with feedback on any preferred solutions.

For ongoing discussion on a plastic bag ban, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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