Virginia agencies are getting rid of single-use plastics. Not everyone is pleased

Plastic waste.
Plastic waste.(Sarah Vogelsong/ Virginia Mercury)
Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 9:29 AM EST
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The road to getting rid of single-use plastics at the Virginia Department of Corrections is littered with security protocols — specifically, ensuring that nonplastic bottles and cutlery can’t be used as weapons.

“There’s a lot of things we can’t change strictly to aluminum,” said Russell Vanness, the department’s sustainability administrator. “You can’t possibly make a weapon out of” a standard single-use plastic water bottle, he said. But other, more rigid drink containers “can be made into a blade of some kind.”

As Virginia agencies begin complying with Gov. Ralph Northam’s March directive to wean off of single-use plastics, DOC isn’t alone in encountering some unexpected challenges. The Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton is hunting for a replacement for the plastic-hinged containers it uses to sell more than half a dozen flavors of fudge. Everyone is uncertain what to use in place of plastic garbage can liners.

Still, said Sharon Baxter, a division director with the Department of Environmental Quality, which is overseeing the push to phase out the state government’s use of disposable plastic, “I’ve been really impressed with how sincere an effort people have put forth on this.”

Northam’s March order, known as Executive Order 77, directed all state agencies including public colleges and universities to start phasing out single-use plastics with the ultimate goal of eliminating their use by the end of 2025. Disposable plastics used for medical purposes were exempt, and greater latitude was given to those used for public health or safety reasons.

As justification, the governor pointed to not only an increase in the state’s solid waste but also the threats plastic pollution poses to the Chesapeake Bay.

“Plastics are the most pervasive type of marine debris in our ocean and along our coasts,” Northam wrote.

Agencies have complied with the executive order, said Baxter. Since it went into effect, DEQ has received 114 of an expected 116 plastic pollution reduction plans from agencies. A more wide-ranging report on how Virginia can reduce and divert solid waste from landfills that the Secretary of Natural Resources was supposed to submit to the governor and the General Assembly by Oct. 1 has not been completed.

Changes are already underway. The Frontier Culture Museum has started selling metal water bottles and phased-out plastic ones. Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority said in its plan that it’s working to replace roughly 2 million plastic bags used a month with reusable bags by December 2022.


.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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