Tag Archives: litter

Portland, Maine, imposing nickel fee on grocery bags

Consumers in Portland, Maine, this week will begin paying a nickel fee for the disposable shopping bag they carry from a store.

Portland is the first community in the New England state to both impose a fee for disposable shopping bags and also to ban polystyrene foam food and beverage containers. The intent is to reduce litter and help the environment.

To date, more than 130 municipalities have imposed fees for disposable bags, ranging from a nickel to a quarter per bag.

The polystyrene bans are not as common. Freeport, Maine, also bans the foam containers and the state prohibits food service vendors from using polystyrene at state-owned facilities.

Polystyrene is a petroleum-based plastic. A 1986 EPA report on solid waste named the polystyrene manufacturing process as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste and 57 chemical byproducts are released during the combustion of polystyrene foam. Toxic chemicals leach out of these products into the food that they contain — especially when heated in a microwave — that threaten human health.

Polystyrene foam dumped into the environment as litter can break up into pieces that choke animals and clog their digestive systems. Dumped into a landfill where trash is buried, polystyrene never degrades.

Austin pushes Bring Your Own Bag policy

Austin, Texas, on March 1 started its ban on certain thin paper and plastic bags amid environmental concerns.

The Austin City Council approved the ordinance about a year ago, with city officials encouraging consumers to bring reusable bags to do their shopping.

Retailers, meanwhile, will be allowed to offer thicker plastic and paper bags with handles, which Austin officials consider reusable. Retailers will decide whether to charge for those bags.

Ban exemptions include dry-cleaning bags, newspaper delivery bags, some types of takeout food bags and bags used for fish, meat, poultry, produce, bulk goods and pharmaceuticals.

Businesses that do not comply could face a Class C misdemeanor punishable by daily fines of up to $2,000.

Some facts about thin, plastic bags from the Clean Air Council:

The Ocean Conservancy says plastic bags are the second-most common kind of waste found, at 1 out of 10 items picked up and tallied in an International Coastal Cleanup.

• Plastic bags do not biodegrade. Light breaks them down into smaller and smaller particles that contaminate the soil and water and are expensive and difficult to remove.

• Less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled each year. Recycling one ton of plastic bags costs $4,000. The ton of recycled product can be sold for $32.

• When the particles from plastic bags get into the water, they are ingested by filter feeding marine animals. Biotoxins such as PCBs that are in the particles are then passed up the food chain, including up to humans.

• The city of San Francisco determined that it costs 17 cents for them to handle each discarded bag.

KKK goes to court to join Georgia’s Adopt-a-Highway litter program

A judge should dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Ku Klux Klan group that was turned down for participation in a highway cleanup program, the state of Georgia argued this week.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued last month on behalf of the International Keystone Knights of the KKK in Union County, saying the state violated the group’s right to free speech. The state this week filed its response and supporting brief in Fulton County Superior Court.

The lawsuit, which names the state and various state agencies and officials, asks the court to:

• Force the state to issue an Adopt-a-Highway permit to the KKK;

• Issue a permanent injunction preventing the state from denying the KKK such a permit;

• Declare that the state wrongfully denied the group’s application and violated due process.

The response argues that claims against state agencies and officials are generally barred in state courts by sovereign immunity. Even if that were not the case, the suit should be dismissed because the KKK didn’t file the lawsuit in time, lacks standing to request an injunction and didn’t take advantage of other existing legal avenues for appeal, the state argues.

The state argues that the KKK should have challenged the denial of the application within 30 days based on a 1981 Georgia Supreme Court opinion.

The state also argues that an injunction is meant to prevent a future action, which means the KKK can’t pursue an injunction to reverse a past action — in this case the denial of the application.

Finally, the KKK could have appealed the Georgia Department of Transportation’s denial of the application to the Office of State Administrative Hearings under the Administrative Procedure Act. That remedy must be pursued before a lawsuit is filed, the state argues.

The Klan group applied in May to the state’s “Adopt-A-Highway” program, seeking to clean up part of Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains. The state program enlists civic groups, companies and other volunteers to pick up trash. The groups are recognized with signs along the roads they adopt.

Transportation Department officials denied the group’s application in June after meeting with lawyers from the state Attorney General’s Office and consulting with Gov. Nathan Deal. The agency said at the time that the program is aimed at “civic-minded organizations in good standing.”

“Promoting an organization with a history of inciting civil disturbance and social unrest would present a grave concern to the department. Issuing this permit would have the potential to negatively impact the quality of life, commerce and economic development of Union County and all of Georgia,” transportation officials said in a statement in June.

The statement asserted that motorists who drive past signs promoting the KKK or who see members picking up trash could be distracted — creating a safety issue — and that the section of highway the group wanted to adopt is ineligible because of its 55 mph speed limit.

Similar groups in other states have won legal battles after initially being turned down for highway cleanup programs.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 rejected Missouri’s attempt to turn down a controversial group’s application, saying membership in the program cannot be denied because of a group’s political beliefs. In Kentucky, transportation officials who feared an unsuccessful legal battle accepted a white-separatist group’s contract to participate in the state’s highway cleanup program.