Protecting our planet

Plastic pollution discussed at the Malverne Jewish Center

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Nearly two dozen people attended the Malverne Jewish Center for a free screening of “Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?” on July 9. The documentary focuses on plastic pollution and its impact on the environment. After the film, George Povall, executive director of All Our Energy, led a discussion of the state’s plastic bag law.

All Our Energy, which formed in 2014, is a Point Lookout-based group that strives to educate and empower the public to support renewable energy and act on environmental issues. Most of its activist work has been done on the South Shore, and has included local movements in Rockville Centre, Long Beach and other communities to eliminate single-use plastic bag pollution.

Povall said he believed that the state ban did not go far enough, and would lead to a large-scale switch from plastic to paper, which he sees as another looming environmental concern. “This reduces nothing,” he said. “We’ve gone from one throw-away bag to a different throw-away bag, both of which are unnecessary.”

The film addressed a wide range of topics related to plastic, including its chemical ingredients and how manufacturing it releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, facilitating climate change.

“It’s very sad what we’re doing to our planet,” said Joseph Varon, of West Hempstead. A former president of the New York State Marine Education Association, Varon spoke about plastic pollution’s adverse effects on sea life, and how it kills 100,000 marine animals each year.

“There’s no planet B,” he said. “If we lose this planet, we’re in big trouble.”

As noted in the film, single-use plastic bags have been regulated and banned around the world. In March, New York became the second state, after California, to ban single-use plastic bags, starting in March 2020. The rule does not enforce a mandatory fee on other checkout bags, which California’s does. Instead, it leaves the fee up to individual counties.

Last year, Suffolk County imposed a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic bags. A county-conducted study found that there was 1.1 billion less single-use of plastic bags in 2018 than 2017 in Suffolk, an overall 81.7 percent drop in plastic bag usage.

A countywide 5-cent fee on paper bags in Nassau is unlikely, however, as Richard Nicolello, the Republican presiding officer of the County Legislature, called such a measure “dead on arrival in Nassau County” in an April press release.

Laura Burns, who is running to represent District 6 in the Nassau County Legislature, lamented Nicolello’s comment, “I am upset that the Nassau County Legislature, the Republican majority of the Legislature, has basically said . . . they won’t even talk about doing it, and I cannot understand why they refuse to do such a thing.”

Povall faulted New York’s “multi-layered” government for making it harder to place a fee on all checkout bags. He also noted that waste disposal in Nassau is not handled by the county, but at the town level. This, he said, has complicated eco-conscious efforts.

Povall said he did not think a 5-cent fee on all checkout bags would be a major burden for Long Island businesses. He also explained that All Our Energy was actually “opposed to the ban” and has argued for a fee on all checkout bags. This, he said, would have preserved “freedom of choice” for those who need a plastic bag.

AOE’s preferred solution is reusable bags. Povall said that paper bags, although somewhat biodegradable, are not a perfect alternative to plastic ones. Switching from the estimated 100 billion plastic bags used by Americans annually to paper bags would create a massive demand to cut down trees and other “environmental problems,” he said.

“We must change society’s perception that this indestructible substance can be truly called disposable,” Varon said. “People just think that if you put the garbage in front of the house it disappears, but it doesn’t disappear.”

Earlier this year, the Malverne Jewish Center held a screening of former Vice President Al Gore’s second film on climate change, “An Inconvenient Sequel.” Rabbi Susan Elkodsi, spiritual leader of the Jewish Center, said that caring for the environment is something that everyone should do. “The idea of leaving the planet in better shape than we found it is important, and we are here to be stewards of the Earth and to take care of it,” Elkodsi said.

“Bag It” emphasized the impact ordinary people can make with small changes in their day-to-day lives. “It’s everyday people. It’s not just activists,” Povall said at the discussion.

AOE is encouraging people to participate in the worldwide Plastic Free July challenge by not using plastic and finding sustainable alternatives instead. So far, 60 people have taken the plastic-free pledge. To learn more about All Our Energy, go to bit.ly/2LZ5Rp7.