“Forever plastics” may soon leave Milwaukee County

    A garbage bin filled with plastic (Courtsey of Pixabay)
    A garbage bin filled with plastic (Courtesy of Pixabay)

    Milwaukee County supervisors are continuing to tackle the use of plastic products, with Supervisors Marina Dimitrijevic and Marcelia Nicholson being the latest to introduce a new resolution. The measure, sponsored by the duo, would phase out single-use plastics from county facilities, in the hope of reducing pollution and improving water quality.

    The resolution targets “forever plastics,” so-called because of their non-biodegradable nature. All kinds of products, particularly bags, litter the ground before getting flushed through the sewers out to Lake Michigan or the Milwaukee River. From there, they remain in the ecosystem, floating in the water or washed up on a wooded shoreline, presenting hazards to wildlife. There’s also the issue of micro-plastics shed from clothing and fabric, which have been detected by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

     Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic (Courtesy of Milwaukee County page)
    Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic (Courtesy of Milwaukee County page)

    “We must take immediate steps now to reduce the amount of forever plastics in our waterways,” said Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevc. “Milwaukee County should be a leader on environmental sustainability issues and that starts with taking action and getting our own house in order.” The resolution directs the county’s Office of Sustainability to draft language in contracts with vendors reflecting these policies before renewal. The office would also work with Plastic Free MKE, a coalition of Milwaukee residents and organizations, to promote the elimination of single-use plastics.

    Milwaukee Riverkeeper, a member group within the coalition, applauded Supervisor Dimitrijevic’s efforts. This initiative echoes one from Alderman Cavalier Johnson, who proposed a plastic bag ban as the new year rolled around. “Government does have a role to play in making sure that our environment is safe and sustainable and is a position to hand it off to the next generation,” the alderman told WISN 12 News the ABC Milwaukee ABC affiliate. The proposal had its critics, but faced no higher obstacle  than a state law passed in 2016 prohibiting such a ban.

    Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson (Courtesy of Milwaukee County page)
    Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson (Courtesy of Milwaukee County page)

    “Some will say that requiring county vendors to eliminate single-use plastics will burden businesses with extra costs,” said Dimitrijevic. “The reality is that taxpayers have been subsidizing these businesses by absorbing their environmental impact costs in the form of plastic-filled waterways and waste management fees.”

    Nicholson stands by the push and hopes that, “we will be the largest county in the state to lead on clean waterways for our future. We must take these steps now to ensure a clean planet for generations to come.” Dimitrijevic emphasized the pressing nature of plastic pollution. “Twenty-two  million pounds of plastic enter our Great Lakes every year,”  he said. “and it’s on us to lead the way in tackling that problem.”

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.