Environment Virginia working to protect ocean from plastic pollution

Media Contacts

Whether it’s in our own backyards or the deepest depths of our oceans, plastic pollution is degrading our environment and killing our wildlife. This summer, young adults who work with Environment Virginia have been canvassing neighborhoods around the state talking about how we can work together to reduce plastic waste.

“Wasteful plastic packing can be found in everything from our to-go coffee cups to the unnecessary wrapping on individual oranges in grocery stores,” said Tanner Gohn, who grew up in Loudoun County and now goes to James Madison University. “Because plastic takes centuries to break down, every to-go cup or takeout container we’ve ever used is polluting the earth. I’m walking our neighborhoods this summer to not only educate people about this critical problem, but also to encourage them to act. That’s the fun and rewarding part.”

Every year, millions of tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean. Along the way, these plastic items often break into smaller pieces and wildlife can mistake them for food. Plastic has been found in the stomachs of hundreds of species across the globe. And no ecosystem is safe — pieces have been found everywhere from remote alpine lakes to the deepest ocean trenches.

Environment Virginia is calling on the state to pass an extended producer responsibility bill (EPR). EPR requires plastics producers to pay to recycle their products, holding them responsible for their products’ full lifecycle. EPR attacks the trash crisis at both ends — both before a product is ever created or purchased, and after a single-use item is ready for disposal. The measure helps businesses transition from single-use plastic containers to reusable or compostable packaging with reasonable timelines to make changes in order to achieve an overall reduction of 75 percent by the year 2030. The measure also calls for incentives for in-state manufacturing using recycled materials. Together, these requirements will cut back on the amount and type of trash going into landfills and litter in neighborhoods, waterways, and the ocean, which will reduce costs to taxpayers for disposal and clean-up. 

“Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute our environment and put species at risk for hundreds of years. Requiring the plastic producers to pay to recycle their products is one of the most simple and effective ways to reduce our plastic pollution,” said Elly Boehmer, state director of Environment Virginia.

In addition to canvassing, some of the staff also volunteer to work with the media and lobby their elected officials. They have met virtually this month with Virginia legislators, including ones whose constituents have signed Environment Virginia’s petitions. “Being able to speak with our state representatives through our lobbying team has shown me how nonpartisan plastic waste is,” Joey Poletto, an Arlington resident who recently published a letter on this campaign in the Loudoun Times, says. “Currently, taxpayers like myself and all Virginia residents pay for cleaning up this mess, but we want to shift that cost on to the producers that created the problem, and I think that sentiment transcends any partisan divide.”

“We are building grassroots support by talking to as many Virginians as we can about this issue,” says campaign director Shae Reinberg, “We are also speaking with Virginia legislators because we each care a lot about this issue, and understand how it impacts our communities and local wildlife.”