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Fulton County bans disposable plastics, declares residues could harm humans

Appalachian creek Fulton County's newly adopted sustainabilty program touts the natural beauty of the region that's located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. File/Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

Fulton County’s Board of Commissioners has banned the use of most disposable plastic food packaging in the county’s facilities. The ban is to be phased in and take effect Jan. 1, 2020. It also declares humans could be harmed by particles of plastics.

Appalachian creek

Fulton County’s newly adopted plastisc program aims to help keep plastic trash and residues of the plastics out of waterways. File/Credit: David Pendered

The commission’s unanimous vote on Wednesday ends months of negotiations over an environmental policy thought to be the first in the state passed by a local government. Commissioners passed a measure in April and later rescinded it to allow for further discussions.

Environmentalists were jubilant after commissioners passed the bill.

“We applaud the leadership of Fulton County for conscientiously moving forward to find solutions to plastic pollution,” Lynn McIntyre said in a text following the vote. “Every citizen can help reduce our footprint on the environment by better understanding how plastic pollution hurts everyone.”

McIntyre is a member of the Fulton County Citizens Commission on the Environment, which was created in 1995 to establish environmental policies. Members worked to establish the newly adopted plastics program and, previously, work with commissioners to establish terms for the sustainability program the commission approved in June. The sustainability program set the mitigation of climate changes as its No. 1 goal.

Jennette Gayer, Environment Georgia’s executive director, had also worked in support of the plastics program and said Friday she thinks it is the first of its kind to be adopted by a local government.
“Fulton County just took a historical step to reduce plastic waste by becoming the first county in Georgia to ban single-use plastics in Fulton Co. facilities,” Gayer had said in an email sent Thursday. “Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing issues facing Georgia’s rivers, oceans, and wildlife. Single-use plastics inevitably end up in our waterways and on our beaches, damaging our ecosystems and endangering public health.”

The legislation applies to all facilities that are owned, operated or leased by the county. The ban calls for replacing single-use plastic items when, “viable alternative or reusable products are available.”

Single-use plastics are defined as:

  • “[D]isposable plastics, typically used once before they are discarded, to include plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, cups, and utensils and most plastic food packaging….”

The ban specifically excludes any areas where it would conflict with the Americans With Disability Act.

The environmental commission is to have a hand in implementing the plastics program.

“Commissioner Liz Hausmann added a friendly amendment that directs the Energy & Sustainability Manager and Fulton County’s Chief Financial Officer to include the “FCCCE” (Fulton County Citizen’s Commission On The Environment,” in any proposed changes to the definition of “single-use” items posted on the Fulton County website, McIntyre said in an email Friday.

The purpose of the amendment is to avoid community disruption by maintaining a phased approach and ensuring that the Board of Commissioners retains a certain level of visibility, McIntyre said. These duties comport with the role of the environmental commission, which include advising on environmental policies and increasing public awareness of, and involvement in, addressing environmental issues.

The plastics legislation contemplates being a road map for other governments that want to take on the plastics issue. The paper instructs the county clerk to send a copy to each city government located within the county:

  • “[With] the expectation that adoption of this resolution will increase awareness in the community of daily decisions that consumers may make to reduce solid waste and the risk of plastics entering the waste stream, storms drains, or local waterways.”
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. urban gardener July 16, 2019 10:16 am

    It always amazes me the people who whine about not having straws as if banning plastic straws means they’ll never have a straw again… I guess they’re too young to have grown up with paper straws. There are very sturdy paper straws on the market which albeit cost pennies more are not something that ruins a restaurant’s profitability by any stretch of the imagination. Besides they seem to come in fab color combinations and I’ve seen them used strategically in fancy drinks to color compliment what’s being served~ I’ve also seen more folks at restaurants using their own personal metal straws. I’m also noticing more corn-based “plastic” drink cups and container lids at restaurants; it’s always hard to tell if they’re using corn-based utensils

    Now to finally figure out how to get a large scale commercial composting facility underway someplace to handle food waste on a municipal scale like in Africa, where it’s turned into compost for regional farmers… Listened to a piece recently on public radio about Baltimore’s trash disposal issues (fight over its incinerator) that touched on its composting efforts:

    Hopefully one day someone will figure out how to convince Chic-Fil-A and Cook Out to dump their Styrofoam habitReport

  2. Dave Markert July 17, 2019 5:45 pm

    This is terrific. Does it include those pesky “k-cup” single use coffee pods? 15billion of those are getting thrown away as they are not only “single use plastics” but they are not recyclable. Can’t see the actual bill text as the link doesn’t work? This is very good news all around.Report


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