Members of the Eco Club. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
Plastics, especially single-use plastics, are rather villainous. They do not biodegrade, they contaminate the soil and water, pose threats to wildlife, and cause unsightly litter in public places. Meanwhile, paper leads to deforestation, uses toxic chemicals and large amounts of water, and increases greenhouse gases.
As local resident Jody Benson said during the July 9 Los Alamos County Council meeting “…the negative effects on the environment of plastic-based products that are 10 minutes of use and 1,000 years in the environment is a scientific fact.”
Los Alamos High School’s Eco Club is fighting back against plastics and the dangers they present to the environment. Co-Presidents Lillian Petersen and Kathryn Laintz said the club is proposing a 10-cent plastic and paper bag fee to be implemented locally. They urge the Los Alamos County Council to approve the fee in December.
LAHS Eco Club is proposing the 10-cent plastic and paper bag fee to promote a cleaner community and environment and reduce waste, litter and pollution.
Laintz said the proposal was modeled after efforts in Santa Fe and Albuquerque regarding plastic bags. Both cities have banned plastic bags “and it’s been successful,” she said.
Petersen said similar policies in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and around the world have successfully reduced consumption and pollution. For instance, after Washington D.C. adopted a fee, it saw a 60 percent reduction in single use plastic bags and a decrease of litter in the Potomac River.
She added that previous studies reveal that a bag fee is much more effective at reducing plastic and paper consumption than a ban. Because people require trash bags for home use, counties that have a ban on plastic bags usually see a huge increase in the number of trash bags bought at the store. A fee, unlike a ban, allows people to still obtain trash bags for a mere 10 cents while reminding them to be cognitive of their consumption, Petersen said. For this reason, Eco Club is asking the public and the County Council to support a fee on plastic and paper carryout bags.
Petersen said the fee is a “chance to achieve long term reduction in waste and improve the community’s environment.”
Two weeks ago, Eco Club started a petition for a 10-cent plastic and paper bag fee and received 160 signatures in one day. Petersen said she believes this shows how popular the idea is with many people in Los Alamos.
To declare victory, the Eco Club is hoping to garner public support.
“We really need public support,” Petersen said. “If anyone wants to pass these policies and make our environment cleaner, you have to be vocal.”
There are several ways to show support. Petersen encourages the community to write letters to the editor in the local newspapers, write letters to County Councilors, or speak during the public comment period of council meetings.
The club’s efforts are garnering support.
“I am very impressed with Lillian and the club,” Environmental Sustainability Board Member Amanda MacDonald said. “They have worked so hard and gotten so much accomplished on their own. She (Lillian) is such an impressive young lady.”
Eco Club Sponsor Katie Tauxie said, “This is a student-led club … they are doing a great job.”
She added that proposing the bag fee is a valuable learning experience for the kids.
“I think the political process is very important to environmental science,” Tauxie said.
The club’s fight is being shared by others in the community. During the July 9 County Council meeting, Los Alamos resident Ann LePage presented a petition, signed by 42 individuals, which asked councilors to implement a ban on the use and distribution of plastic bags, plastic straws and Styrofoam containers. Council ultimately decided to form a subcommittee to address the issue and requested County staff and boards research the matter and return to council with information, options and recommendations by Dec. 1. Outside of County government, Kroger, the company that owns Smith’s grocery stores, is planning to phase out plastic bags by 2025.