It’s time for Virginia to put wildlife over waste

Two bills are heading to the Senate floor that will reduce plastic waste in Virginia and protect our wildlife and special places.

The James River in Richmond, Virginia
Photo Credit: Elly Boehmer

Many of us think about the legacy humanity could leave behind on Earth. We think about pyramids, infrastructure, statues, but in reality it could be plastic. A lot of plastic. Every year, approximately eight million tons of plastic waste ends up in our oceans.

Nothing that we use for a few minutes should be allowed to pollute our rivers and oceans for hundreds of years. That’s just common sense.

Year after year, Americans throw away billions of single-use plastic cups and takeout containers. We’re producing more plastic than ever, and global plastic production is projected to quadruple between 2014 and 2050. We cannot recycle our way out of this problem; we must find a way to reduce plastic at the source. 

The solution to the massive amounts of plastic waste in our environment is actually pretty simple: We need to ban or restrict the worst offenders, including polystyrene and balloons. The 2021 Virginia General Assembly will have an opportunity to do just that. 

HB 1902, introduced by Delegate Carr from Richmond, would ban expanded polystyrene cups and takeout containers. The bill offers a huge first step to reducing Virginia’s plastic waste. In particular, polystyrene foam, what most of us call Styrofoam, threatens our environment and our wildlife. It breaks apart easily into tiny particles called microplastics, and persists in the environment forever. In fact, every bit of polystyrene ever made is still out there.

As consumers, we can’t always control when we come across these plastics, whether we are shopping in the supermarket or ordering take-out for a covid-safe dinner. Industry leaders have a responsibility to reduce plastic waste. Maine, Vermont, New York, and our neighbors, D.C. and Maryland, have all taken this step to keep foam out of our waste streams.

On average, plastic-free alternatives are only one cent more expensive. D.C. has provided the city’s restaurants with a comprehensive list of vendors to source these alternatives from. We can easily do the same for Virginia businesses. If restaurants are unable to afford alternative food containers, HB 1902 does, in fact, provide an economic hardship waiver.

HB 2159 provides an additional opportunity for the 2021 General Assembly to reduce plastic waste. This bill, introduced by Delegate Guy from Virginia Beach, works to reduce one of the most common types of litter found on Virginia’s coastline: balloons. 

The Virginia Aquarium’s marine animal stranding response team has documented ingested balloons in endangered sea turtles and marine animals. Yet, it is currently legal to release 49 balloons per person, per hour in Virginia. HB 2159 would make it so that balloons are treated as the dangerous litter that they are.

Whether you are driving down a country road in rural Virginia, kayaking down the James River or walking through a city park, you have seen the impacts of plastic pollution and how much single use foam contributes to this issue. Humanity should be remembered by our innovation, our problem solving, not by our needless use of plastic and the destruction of our Environment.

At the end of the day, we can’t wait any longer to curb plastic pollution in Virginia. We need to stop using dangerous single-use plastics like polystyrene, and our elected officials must move forward with banning them. 


Elly Boehmer

State Director, Environment Virginia

A former canvass director and organizer with Impact, Elly now directs Environment Virginia's efforts to promote clean air, clean water and open spaces in Virginia. Elly lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she enjoys gardening, photography, hiking and rollerblading with her dog.