Missouri legislature continues prohibition on single use plastic bans

In Missouri, a 2015 law prevents legislators from banning single use plastics, a devastating source of pollution that has largely gone unrecycled. Half of all plastics are meant to be used only once, according to the United Nations Environment Programme

Plastic fragments continue to spread throughout previously untouched ecosystems. They’ve been detected in 86% of all sea turtle species and 43% of all marine mammal species. Half of all plastics ever produced were made in the last 15 years, according to a 2019 National Geographic article, and 2015 plastic production rates are expected to double by 2050. 

The production and transportation of plastic also emitted more carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, than 2.1 million cars in 2015, according to the Center for International Environmental Law

Since plastic production shows no signs of slowing down, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for recyclers to make a profit on their breakdown and recomposition, one Missouri lawmaker is trying to repeal the ban on plastic-bans.

House Bill 227, filed by Missouri Rep. Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City, would have repealed the state law that prevents cities from deciding for themselves if single use plastics should be permitted within their communities. It died in committee.

Speaker of the House Rep. Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, assigned the bill on the last day of the legislative session, effectively dooming it, Burnett said. The bill had no cosponsors during the session.

“This is not a legislature that has an appetite for any kind of green initiatives,” Burnett said, “Ultimately, they’re not interested in environmental protections as much as they’re interested in profit.” Despite the lack of support, she plans to file the bill again next session.

Burnett sees the repeal not just as an environmental priority, but as a taxpayer-rights issue.

“If you have a robust recycling plant in your community that your community has voted for with their tax dollars, and you’ve got a product gumming up the works, the people who’ve voted that this is a priority to them should be able to impose restrictions on those products,” Burnett said. 

Michael Berg, the political director of the Missouri Sierra Club, said the existing ban marks a larger pattern of hypocrisy within the legislature. He worked with Burnett to craft the bill.

“The Governor touts local control, especially during the pandemic,” Berg said, “and then blocks the ability of local governments to do certain things.”

Berg said disregard of the public extends beyond plastics. Senate Bill 391, passed in 2019, took away the ability of counties and municipalities to pass and enforce health ordinances that protect people and water from concentrated animal feeding operation waste. The National Association of Local Boards of Health noted that CAFO waste is a threat to groundwater and air quality; it also noted the agricultural sector is the largest source of pollution to lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. There is a pending lawsuit regarding the constitutionality of the bill.

Berg said another blow to the public’s ability to protect citizens from environmental hazards is the lack of public representation on the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Clean Water Commission, which has been stacked with agricultural industry insiders since 2016. House Bill 1713 from Missouri’s 2016 legislative session changed its composition such that up to six of its seven members could represent agricultural interests, which the Missouri Coalition for the Environment wrote is a case of “the fox watching the henhouse.”

Burnett said she’s skeptical that her bill will get across the finish line next year, but feels it’s worth filing regardless. 

“What I want to do more is be able to have the debate on it, to keep it in the consciousness of the public, and hopefully what that does is it allows people to have a bigger awareness of the importance of taking care of our environment,” she said.

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