Krizek: Styrofoam ban, CFL bulb recycling, litter study on legislative agenda

Litter is seen in a wooded area near Hybla Valley earlier this year.

This column was submitted by Del. Paul Krizek (D-44).

In less than a month the new 2020 General Assembly session will gavel in and there will be a lot of legislation introduced impacting Virginia’s renewable energy policies and standards to fight climate change, to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, encourage mixed use, transit-oriented walkable communities, and support high speed rail, just to name a few important environmental initiatives.

Del. Paul Krizek

My environmental legislation includes a much needed statewide prohibition on single-use polystyrene products beginning January 1, 2021. Polystyrene products, more commonly known as styrofoam, are used for a variety of purposes, most commonly for single-use food packaging including take-out boxes from restaurants and to-go coffee cups. Other common uses include packaging materials like packing peanuts. Styrofoam is lightweight and easy to mold, making it a desirable packaging material.

However, styrofoam products are not biodegradable, and they take up a hefty percentage of the space in our landfills, not to mention the amount of styrofoam waste that is littered and finds its way into our waterways. It is not safe to incinerate styrofoam due to the release of toxic chemicals.

While some of these products may come with labels that they are recyclable, this is misleading, because very few recycling programs accept polystyrene products, especially since these products are frequently contaminated with food and drink. There are many alternatives to using polystyrene, including biodegradable and compostable food containers, and new packaging materials are being invented that are not only biodegradable, but some are even edible or can be used as fertilizer!

Doing our part to reduce the amount of polystyrene products entering landfills and polluting our waterways is critical to the health of the Commonwealth’s environment and citizens.

Another bill I may introduce is to establish a recycling procedure for Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs. CFL bulbs contain mercury, which is toxic to humans, even in very small doses. In fact, a single CFL bulb contains enough mercury to pollute up to 600 gallons of water.

CFL bulbs have become much more common household objects as incandescent light bulbs have been phased out, and this means that over the last several years and into the near future more CFL bulbs will need to be disposed of. Unfortunately, we currently have a recycling exemption for these CFL bulbs in the Virginia code because most recycling facilities do not have the capacity to recycle mercury and other heavy metals. This bill eliminates the statewide exemption, but designates authority to localities to create recycling programs similar to how we recycle printer ink.

A third bill I am working on will direct the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to study the economic impacts of litter on fishing, farming and water quality in urban streams. We know that litter is bad for the environment, but we don’t have accurate data on just how bad it is for the economy and just where the pollution is coming from or who are the polluters and what are the tools needed to deal with this problem.

This legislation, courtesy of the Friends of Little Hunting Creek, would provide hard data and thus better legislative guidance to address litter in our farmlands and waterways, a first step towards stronger protection for our parks and streams. Throughout this last year, I have met with the Virginia Farm Bureau as well as local fishermen and several environmental groups that have shared with me concerns about microplastics in the soil affecting crop yields, and the health of our critical marine wildlife and aquatic habitat in our streams, the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. Also, I am looking at a bill to enforce the current litter tax by creating a $100 fine on those businesses that are delinquent litter taxpayers.

Another bill brought to me by constituents is one that helps to expand the conservation mitigation banking that we already have for streams and wetlands protection to include trees. As properties are developed or redeveloped, a certain percentage of the property would need to be set aside for tree preservation or for reforestation after development is completed.

If this cannot be done on the property, developers have the option to either purchase another piece of land to “bank” trees, or they can contribute to a mitigation banking fund. This is a similar tactic to the carbon off-setting program, where individuals and companies can contribute money to conservation projects to off-set their carbon footprints.

Due to increased development, especially in Northern Virginia, we are losing trees and tree canopy areas at an alarming rate and I believe that this step might provide for the opportunity to retain no further net loss of trees. Trees can help lessen pollution by absorbing 48 pounds of carbon over a single year and contribute to the environment by providing oxygen, preserving the soil, and supporting wildlife. It can’t be stated enough how essential trees are to the eco-system.


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