I opposed the motion because an attempted change that was rolled out by staff without community or Board approval in 2017 raised a number of questions that are still unanswered and also faced significant community opposition. I do not want to see that repeated. Following that proposal, at the Board’s Environment Committee meeting last June, the then-Chair, Supervisor Gross and I expressed concerns with the change and it was directed to be brought back to the Environmental Committee for further discussion of the issues that were identified (see discussion at 1:01.46 here). Here are some of the concerns yet to be addressed:
- An understanding of what actually happens to our “recycled” yard waste.
- The impact that yard waste diversion has on state recycling goals. If yard waste is diverted to unregulated facilities, how much of that tonnage is actually reclaimed and how much, if improperly handled, becomes an environmental hazard to our waterways.
- In 2017 we confirmed with Virginia Department of Environmental Quality that illegal dumping is a problem with yard waste, and that by banning plastic bags, more operators may dump yard waste illegally.
- The cost of compostable paper bags to plastic can be prohibitive (50 cents per bag) and at least twice the cost of plastic bags.
- The availability of paper bags in our stores for thousands of residents and businesses that regularly need bags for yard waste.
- Paper bags are not as flexible or convenient to use.
- The impact on lawn maintenance businesses.
- Paper bags fall apart in wet weather conditions leaving trash and debris in the streets.
- How the ban will be enforced.
- Alternatives to paper bags that should be considered.
According to staff, the County has been engaged in an outreach campaign to educate the community about a prohibition on the use of plastic bags for yard waste. At no time was I made aware of this outreach and the results of a very unscientific survey of my neighbors and staff indicate they were not made aware either.
Furthermore, I have spoken to the owner of a northern Virginia regional composting facility who is one of the largest recipients of our County’s yard waste. He has informed me that he does not recall staff recently conducting a site visit to his facility. The owner of this facility agrees that the removal of plastic bags would be beneficial to his operations, yet he remains concerned, as he was in 2017, that banning plastic bags will encourage more illegal dumping.He also echoed the concerns on waste diversion and impact on our waterways.
I would also note that the General Assembly specifically exempted plastic bags for yard waste from the proposed new plastic bag tax.
Every bag has an environmental impact; there are no silver bullets. Decisions that are made in the name of the environment must be made on science and fact, not emotions and misconceptions. Each decision has consequences – intended and unintended – which should be fully examined and publicly discussed. This decision was made without that careful consideration and discussion.
If you have concerns about this County initiative, I would appreciate it if you shared your thoughts by completing this short survey.
Republican Pat Herrity represents the Springfield Magisterial District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. To subscribe to The Herrity Report, click here.