Slowing, halting sale of single-use plastics at parks is long overdue

Environmental protection measures are so politicized these days that it’s difficult to make consistent progress on any front, even when the solution to a problem is so plainly simple.

Yet in recent days, we’ve seen some encouraging signs.

Sixteen months ago, Julie Morrison, a state senator from Lake Forest, proposed the state change its procurement policy to require state agencies contract solely with vendors that don’t use single-use plastics for food service at state parks and natural areas.

Gov. JB Pritzker finally signed that into law this week. It goes into effect in January ... 2024.

Better late than never, we say.

Instead of plastic bottles, cups, sandwich boxes, bags and the like, vendors will have to use materials that are either recyclable or compostable. If you must have a plastic straw, you may ask for one.

“We must work together to do all we can to keep our parks clean,” Morrison said in a news release. “By implementing more biodegradable and reusable alternatives to plastic, we can put our communities on a path toward sustainability.”

Days earlier, the federal Department of the Interior pledged to halt the sale of such products in national parks and forests by 2032.

Meantime, it will phase out the use of such materials while the department identifies alternatives.

“As the steward of the nation’s public lands, including national parks and national wildlife refuges, and as the agency responsible for the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats,” the Interior Department is “uniquely positioned to do better for our Earth,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

So, why would the federal government take a decade to fix this and the state a little more than a year?

There is a significant difference in scale. The Department of Interior oversees 480 million acres, a great percentage of it in the western states.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources manages 309 state parks and recreational sites on less than a half million acres.

Consider that Americans buy about 50 billion water bottles and throw away about 25 billion Styrofoam cups each year. Only 10% of single use plastic is recycled.

Because it doesn’t magically disappear, almost all of those water bottles we’ve thrown away all our lives still exist – in some form – today, whether it be in a glob of plastic in the ocean or in microparticles that poison our water and soil.

If all of these things don’t trouble you, think of how the absence of plastic in our nation’s and state’s parks and forest will make for a more pleasant walk in the woods.

The Daily Herald