An Earth Day look at plastic pollution in Ohio

By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

COLUMBUS, Ohio – With Ohioans around the state taking part in Earth Day cleanup events, conservationists said there’s no better time to discuss the impacts of plastic pollution.

Single-use cups, food containers and shopping bags are among the plastic items that never fully degrade, and a 2018 study found just 9% of the plastics ever created have been recycled.

Elissa Yoder Mann, conservation manager for the Sierra Club in Ohio, explained most of it ends up in a landfill, or littering the environment.

“All you have to do is drive down the highway or take a walk in your neighborhood, and you can see litter everywhere,” Mann observed. “So many of us shop with our reusable tote bags, we recycle everything we can, yet the problem of plastic pollution continues. So clearly something isn’t working.”

Ohioans are giving not only their time but also their tax dollars for litter removal.

Mann explained the Ohio Department of Transportation spends $4 million annually to clean up roadside trash. By some estimates, landfills will hold up to 12 billion metric tons of plastics by 2025.

Shannon Pratt-Harrington, chief sustainability officer for Zero Waste Event Production in southeast Ohio, said the key to reducing waste is to start where it begins.

For example, she argued manufacturers are not being held accountable for the waste created in their packaging.

“We’re so brainwashed in the idea that the packaging is somehow our fault,” Pratt-Harrington asserted. “And that if you only made a better decision to, like, go to the farmers market or something, you would have that plastic packaging, but I feel like that’s a little unfair when we could change a system.”

Mann contended state leaders are turning a blind eye to the impact of plastics pollution.

“The U.N. has indicated that plastic pollution is a global, environmental catastrophe,” Mann stressed. “States across the U.S. are passing legislation to reduce waste. Yet here, Ohio legislators are passing bills that make it illegal for communities to address plastic pollution.”

Manufacturers are legally required to manage drop-off sites for batteries, paint, tires and similar toxic materials, but not plastic waste. They are also not required to help pay for the costs of recycling programs or litter removal.