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Lawmakers join effort to ban plastics

BRISTOL — Several Addison County lawmakers on Monday said they’ll back legislation aimed at removing single-use plastic products — such as shopping bags — from Vermont’s waste stream.
Bills like H.74 — which proposes to prohibit food service establishments from providing carryout bags, expanded polystyrene food service products, and plastic straws to customers — drew considerable debate at a legislative breakfast at the Bristol American Legion post on Airport Road.
Middlebury voters on Town Meeting Day will consider a similar ban for single-use plastic bags. Two Mary Hogan Elementary School 5th-graders attended Monday’s breakfast to press lawmakers on the plastics issue.
“I support banning plastic bags, not only townwide, but statewide, too,” said student Navah Glikman. “I support banning plastic bags because of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Plastic bags and plastic straws get caught up in ocean currents, then sea animals such as turtles and fish get trapped in the plastic and die.”
Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, agreed lawmakers should consider a statewide ban on single-use plastics this year — something his Natural Resources & Energy Committee will be doing later this session.
“Everything seems to come in a plastic container of one sort or another, and most of these things have a single use,” he said. “Plastic isn’t broken down in the environment; it’s not naturally recycled by nature.”
Rep. Matt Birong, D-Vergennes, said he hopes a single-use plastics ban can be accomplished without putting a financial strain on businesses. His Vergennes restaurant, 3 Squares Café, has switched to biodegradable straws. It’s an extra cost, but one he believes is worth taking, though he’d like to see the state provide tax credits to businesses if they have to eschew all single-use plastics.
Rep. Mary Cordes, D-Lincoln, declared her support for the ban, which she noted will require a lot of cooperation.
“In order for a bill like this to work best, all of the stakeholders need to work together,” she said.
Sen. Ruth Hardy, D-Middlebury, lauded the Mary Hogan students for caring enough to speak out on the plastics issue.
“It’s a world they’re inheriting from us, and they don’t want it to be filled with plastic waste,” Hardy said.
In the meantime, Weybridge resident Spence Putnam stressed the Addison County Solid Waste Management District’s Middlebury transfer station is now accepting, for free, a variety of polyethylene (No. 2 and No. 4) bags and film plastics. Those include produce, bread, newspaper, food storage and dry cleaning bags. Those items need to be brought to the transfer station separately and shouldn’t be placed in the blue recycling bins.
Plastic wasn’t the only modern substance eyed for a ban, other discussion at Monday’s legislative breakfast focused on: a proposal to ban glyphosate, a chemical used in herbicides. Last year’s bill H.328, according to Addison resident John Ball, would ban government use of glyphosate within the state of Vermont.
Ball pointed to studies showing the potential harmful effects of glyphosate on human health.
“It completely destroys our gut bacteria,” Ball said of the chemical. “The microbiome that is so important to us, and we’re finding out more and more how important it is to us.”
“Who are we going to trust?” Ball said. “A large corporation like Monsanto, who’s in it for billions of dollars in profit? I don’t think we can put much trust in corporations.”
While the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft human health and ecological risk assessment report in December of 2017 that concluded, “glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” the World Health Organization has declared glyphosate a “probable carcinogen” and California has listed it as a chemical “known to the state to cause cancer.”
A proposed glyphosate ban failed to advance in the Legislature during the last biennium, so a new bill will have to be introduced. Rep. Cordes said she was able to introduce a glyphosate ban bill just before the Jan. 31 deadline by which lawmakers had to introduce new bills to be considered this session.
“It’s a very simple bill that needs discussion, but I did want to get something introduced,” Cordes said.
Rep. Terry Norris, I-Shoreham, is a member of the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee, a panel that will play a large role in evaluating a proposed glyphosate ban.
“I’ve been doing some more research,” Norris said, noting that Costco has stopped selling glyphosate products.
“We’ll keep looking into it.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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