Environmental expert weighs in on Omaha's plastic bag veto

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Jean Stothert made good on her promise to veto the plastic bag ban passed by Omaha City Council last night.

It’s a missed opportunity, according to local environmental expert Dr. Mary Ann Vinton, director of Creighton University’s Environmental Science Program.

"Plastics just don't breakdown in the environment,” Vinton said. “They're accumulating in the environment, and we don't even know the impact they're having on all life, including human life."

The mayor points to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which show the bags make up just 0.3% of municipal landfills.

"That statistic doesn't really tell the whole story about how dominant plastic are becoming in the environment,” Vinton said.

She said it’s not just about the amount in the landfill, but what it’s secreting. She points to a study out of the Pyrenees Mountains earlier this year.

"High up in the mountains, away from any sort of urban area, researchers found microplastics that had rained down into that kind of pristine area,” Vinton said.

The mayor also cites research showing cities that ban the bags end up increasing the purchase of small plastic trash bags. It’s something Christine Daye, who was out walking her dog, said she will do.

“I've always saved plastic bags, and I use them for everything; trash, garbage, his (dog’s) stuff."

Daye doesn’t like the idea of a ban.

According to Dr. Vinton, who is teaching the next generation, anything that can be done to protect the environment is important, even if it seems small.

"It sends an important message to these young people that 'Hey, we care about the environment and we care about your future, and we're doing something about it,' " she said.

Although the mayor does not support this plastic bag ban, she has consistently said she would support a resolution that would require retailers to phase out the use of plastic bags by 2025.

In her veto letter, the mayor also noted she’ begun discussing a partnership with Keep Omaha Beautiful, to determine a litter reduction strategy.

The City Council will need five votes to override the mayor’s veto.