As videos of tidal waves of plastic bottles and trash circulate on social media and across the media landscape, it might come as shocking to some that the Great Lakes and the rivers in our own backyards have some of the highest concentrations of plastics on earth, particularly small particles commonly referred to as "microplastics." The issue makes it abundantly clear that efforts to limit the amount of plastic entering our waterways must start right here, on a local level.
First and foremost, local municipalities and the Oakland County Board of Commissioners should encourage the Michigan legislature to repeal its 2016 law which prohibits local governments from passing ordinances regulating single-use plastic containers or banning the use of plastic grocery bags in its municipality.
In 2016, the Michigan legislature, in an adherence to archaic environmental laws that pander in the name of "business," quelled the fears of the restaurant and grocery industry that they could be forced to stop using plastic bags and single-use plastic containers. At the time, Washtenaw County had sought to enforce a 10-cent charge on paper and plastic grocery bags. Other communities across the country had also started to outright ban plastic bags and single-use plastic containers. Michigan legislators, under the influence of a pro-business lobby, swooped in and put an end to any such efforts by imposing a prohibition on any such local ordinances, which was signed into law by former Lt. Governor Brian Calley when Governor Rick Snyder was out of state. Under this legislative administration, it appears the idea of local control is only worthy of adherence when the business lobby supports it.
Earlier this year, Rep. Robert Wittenberg (D-Berkley, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak Twp.) introduced legislation to repeal the 2016 law, to allow local municipalities to determine what standards their own communities want to enforce. The bill has been in the local government and municipal finance committee since April. While the bill has had some bipartisan support, it's doubtful to gain much traction among business-minded Republicans without active support from local communities, and more importantly, local business chambers and pro-business authorities.
While we aren't so naive as to believe that picking paper over plastic bags will solve all of the nation and state's plastic problem – production of plastic bags actually creates less pollution that that of paper bags, while plastics remain in the environment for decades longer before, or if, they break down – we recognize, as lawmakers should, that consumers, and in turn, businesses, are demanding more environmentally-friendly alternatives.
Consider that Kroger, which doesn't take back their own plastic bags for recycling, has plans to phase out single use plastic grocery bags by 2025. Likewise, the popularity of reusable bags that don't tear or break, are increasingly popular among shoppers.
We encourage the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce (BBCC) and the Birmingham Shopping District to work together with local businesses to become pro-active, whether by switching from single use plastic water bottles to water coolers and reusable containers, as our office has, to wrapping items in reusable bags, as some local stores do, to restaurants switching to paper straws, as well as promoting efforts by businesses to cut waste.
For too long efforts to reduce waste in favor of environmentally-friendly practices has been at odds with the business community. By leading the effort as good stewards of the environment, Birmingham and Bloomfield can become the business model to follow, both locally and at the state level.