RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - A new Virginia executive order aims to decrease plastic pollution and reduce the amount of solid waste going to landfills. Governor Ralph Northam signed Executive Order Seventy-Seven Tuesday.
According to a release from the governor’s office, the new order puts Virginia on a path to eliminate most single-use plastics at state agencies, colleges and universities, imposing a near-term ban on several common, but unnecessary disposable plastics and requiring the phase-out of other items by 2025. Gov. Northam made the announcement Tuesday at the 31st annual Environment Virginia Symposium hosted by the Virginia Military Institute.
“From landmark investments in renewable energy to bold action to tackle the climate crisis, Virginia is at the forefront of innovative efforts to protect our environment, and addressing the problem of plastic pollution is an important part of this work,” said Gov. Northam. “As a large producer of solid waste, the Commonwealth must lead by example and transition away from single-use disposable plastics to create a cleaner, more sustainable future for all Virginians.”
Because it isn’t biodegradable, most plastic ends up as litter on land and in water, harming fish and wildlife. Most types of plastic are not easily or economically recyclable. Less than 9% of plastics are recycled in the U.S., according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. That means 91% of plastic is disposed of in landfills or incinerators. Solid waste disposed of in these manners in Virginia has increased from two million tons per year in 2011 to 23 million tons a year today.
“Plastic pollution has emerged as one of the most challenging environmental problems of our lifetime, with devastating impacts on our oceans and coasts, and many questions about human health effects,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Decades of experience have shown us that breaking our plastic addiction is the only truly effective pollution reduction strategy.”
Executive Order Seventy-Seven requires all executive branch agencies to stop buying, selling and distributing items like disposable plastic bags, single-use plastic water bottles, single-use plastic and polystyrene (Styrofoam) food service containers and plastic straws and cutlery within 120 days. The order allows for near-term exemptions for items necessary for medical, public health or public safety uses, as well as long-term exemptions for medical and emergency applications. Agencies will be required to develop plans to phase out all non-medical single-use plastic and Styrofoam items by 2025.
The order also directs the secretary of natural resources to report to the governor on recommendations to reduce overall soil waste, and to divert as much waste as possible from landfills through composting, enhanced recycling, beneficial reuse and other strategies.
“Nobody wants to live next to a landfill, and historically, they have been cited in places that disproportionately impact underserved populations and communities of color,” said Director of the Department of Environmental Quality David Paylor. “This is a significant environmental justice issue, and the less waste we produce, the fewer landfills we will need.”
In addition to Executive Order Seventy-Seven, Gov. Northam signed House Bill 533, which bans the use of Styrofoam for all food vendors by 2025.