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Northam commits to phasing out single-use plastics at state agencies

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Gov. Ralph Northam today signed an executive order aimed at reducing Virginia’s reliance on single-use plastics, which pollute waterways, harm fish and wildlife, and take up space in landfills.

The order puts the Commonwealth on a path to eliminate most single-use plastics at state agencies, colleges, and universities, imposing a near-term ban on several common, but unnecessary disposable plastics and requiring the phase out of other items by 2025.

Northam made the announcement today during the 31st annual Environment Virginia Symposium hosted by the Virginia Military Institute.

“From landmark investments in renewable energy to bold action to tackle the climate crisis, Virginia is at the forefront of innovative efforts to protect our environment, and addressing the problem of plastic pollution is an important part of this work,” Northam said. “As a large producer of solid waste, the Commonwealth must lead by example and transition away from single-use disposable plastics to create a cleaner, more sustainable future for all Virginians.”

Most types of plastic are not easily or economically recyclable, and because they are not biodegradable, they often end up as litter on land and in waters. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, less than 9 percent of plastics are recycled in the United States, compared with 91 percent disposed of in landfills or incinerators.

Since 2011, solid waste disposed of at landfills and incinerators in Virginia has grown from 2 million tons to nearly 23 million tons per year.

The governor’s executive order requires all executive branch state agencies, including state institutions of higher education to discontinue buying, selling, or distributing items such as disposable plastic bags, single-use plastic and polystyrene food service containers, plastic straws and cutlery, and single-use plastic water bottles within 120 days.

The order includes near-term exemptions for items necessary for medical, public health, or public safety uses, and long-term exemptions for medical and emergency applications. State agencies will be required to develop plans to phase out all non-medical single-use plastic and expanded polystyrene objects by 2025.

“Plastic pollution has emerged as one of the most challenging environmental problems of our lifetime, with devastating impacts on our oceans and coasts, and many questions about human health effects,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Decades of experience have shown us that breaking our plastic addiction is the only truly effective pollution reduction strategy.”

In addition to recyclables, more than half of landfilled municipal solid waste is comprised of food, paper, and fiber that could be composted or repurposed. The order also directs the Secretary of Natural Resources to report to the governor on recommendations to reduce solid waste overall, and to divert as much waste as possible from landfills through composting, beneficial reuse, enhanced recycling, and other strategies.

“Nobody wants to live next to a landfill, and historically, they have been cited in places that disproportionately impact underserved populations and communities of color,” Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor said. “This is a significant environmental justice issue, and the less waste we produce, the fewer landfills we will need.”

The full text of Executive Order Seventy-Seven is available here.


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