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State Lawmakers Seek to "Ban the Plastic-Bag Bans" in Ohio

One study estimates that 100 million pieces of plastic, including single-use bags, pollute Lake Erie. (Indi Samarajiva/Flickr)
One study estimates that 100 million pieces of plastic, including single-use bags, pollute Lake Erie. (Indi Samarajiva/Flickr)
June 14, 2019

By Nick Pedone/Broadcast version by Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

Reporting for the Kent State-Ohio News Connection Collaboration

To help protect the environment, three Ohio communities have passed bans on single-use plastic bags, but now state legislators are trying to keep the bans from going into effect.

Orange Village, an eastern suburb of Cleveland with a population of about 3,300, was the first community to pass legislation successfully banning plastic bags, like the ones found in grocery stores, in 2018.

“There were a lot of us on council, starting with Council President Brandon Duber, that wanted to do something to something to help the environment and set an example to our peers,” said Orange Village Councilman Scott Bilsky, who personally reached out to smaller businesses in the community to make sure they supported the ban. Just last month Cuyahoga County and Bexley, a Columbus suburb, passed similar bans.

However, some state lawmakers feel as if these bag bans have a negative impact on small businesses. They argue that plastic bag bans force merchants to spend more money on paper bags, which are more expensive than the customary plastic.

Ohio lawmakers have introduced House Bill 242, a corresponding bill that would prevent local bans or taxes on plastic bags.

The bill states that the proposed legislation will “authorize the use of an auxiliary container for any purpose, to prohibit the imposition to a tax or fee on those containers, and to apply existing antilittering law to those containers.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only three states have completely outlawed plastic bags: California, New York and Hawaii. More states have enacted legislation preventing local governments from doing the same. They are Arizona, Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida.

Since being elected in 2011, Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Sunny Simon has strongly advocated against the use of plastic bags in order to help protect Lake Erie.

Particles from water bottles, straws and plastic bags litter the lake. The pieces of plastic that litter Erie’s shoreline are also harmful to humans, according to a study by Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, Lake Erie is polluted with about 46,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer.

When plastic ends up in Lake Erie, animals eat these pieces of plastics, and the pollutants slowly work up the food chain to humans. In total, over 100 million pieces of plastic pollute Lake Erie, according to Mason’s study.

Last month, Cuyahoga County followed Orange Village, banning plastic bags from grocery stores, retailers and markets throughout the entire county. The ban is set to take effect January 1, 2020.

The proposed bans will not affect plastic bags used for pet waste, newspapers, dry cleaning, restaurant orders or prescriptions.

Alongside the legislation, Simon plans to roll out an educational campaign, giving Ohio’s second-largest county information about the hazards and perils of plastic pollution, how harmful plastics end up in Erie and why this ban makes sense for the county.

“I think with that education, that people really buy in and understand that we need to do something about it,” Simon said.

Just two hours after Cuyahoga County Council members voted to eliminate plastic bags, the city of Bexley, about 145 miles away, followed suit. Bexley’s city council voted 6-1 to approve the legislation.

House Bill 242 was introduced on May 13, just two weeks before the ban was passed in Cuyahoga County and Bexley. Now it remains unclear if the ban will ever take effect in Ohio.

Some of the state representatives strongly oppose individual communities passing these bans.

The sponsors of House Bill 242 did not return repeated calls to comment on their legislation for this story.

Simon says local governments are forced to pass their own environmental-protection laws because it is unlikely that the state of Ohio will do it.

When Bexley’s city council voted 6-1 in favor of banning plastic bags last month, Councilman Richard Sharp, a self-declared conservative, was the only dissenting vote.

“We should encourage people to be responsible and make the decision on their own,” Sharp said in last month’s meeting.

Sharp’s ideas for environmentalism partially coincide with the newly proposed House Bill 242.

“We need to educate our children, make them woke, that it is their responsibility to take care of the issue, not the government to tell people what to do,” Sharp said.

Simon said that the conservative makeup of Ohio’s government has been one of Cuyahoga County’s greatest challenges in preserving Lake Erie. House Bill 242 is another barricade that stands in the way of the movement for which Simon worked so diligently.

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by The George Gund Foundation.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH