Tips for passing a local law
Are you interested in working with your community to pass a new law in your town? Here are some ideas from FCWC’s Greening Our Towns event on how to do so (some of these are specific to single-use bags but can really be applied for any kind of law!):
Try to collect evidence of the problem, like the litter caused by plastic bags. For instance, Greenburgh Nature Center held an exhibition of photographs taken by students of all the plastic bags they encountered in two hours. These visuals have a big impact.
Speak with residents and get their support by going door-to-door or tabling at a public space, like a supermarket. If you’re collecting signatures, it’s helpful to have two different petitions: one for residents who are of voting age and one for students. Get residents’ emails and ask them to write to the town/village board so that the board can see how much support there is for the initiative.
If there are any issues within the community with this initiative, identify where the skepticism is coming from and speak directly with those groups. Dig into the sources of information that they’re using and rely on reputable sources for your research.
Discuss the initiative with businesses so that they’re not blindsided. In the case of a reusable bag initiative, it can help businesses by reducing the number of bags they have to purchase; stores can also make money from selling reusable bags. If you have a petition available, show the stores that they have many customers who would be happy to have a reusable bag initiative. Also, help make it clear to shoppers that it’s really an initiative coming from the town, and that it’s not “the store’s fault.”
Then, “reduce perceived risk” and “make it easy” for the town to pass it. Show the signatures of all the voters who want the initiative to be passed and will be pleased with their elected officials. In addition, point out any current costs to taxpayers: for instance, it takes the Department of Public Works time to clean up plastic bags (especially picking them out of trees!). According to one estimate in Los Angeles, it cost their waste transfer stations $1,500 to $25,000 each month to pick up bags.
Meet with individual board members to answer any questions and follow up to check that you addressed their concerns. If possible, it’s always better to meet in person. There may be questions about legal issues: for example, Hastings was sued because their law was considered “arbitrary” since it only covered plastic bags. Including paper bags in the law as well could reduce this risk (more details here).
Do all the extra work that comes along with passing an ordinance—like providing sample text—and be available to notify the public, create posters, and answer questions. Check out local online forums and respond to any concerns that arise.
Most of all, keep it fun! Involve the public local schools, and community groups.
Check out the complete post at the FCWC blog!