“When I saw the plastic bags flying through the air and floating in our bay I knew I had to do something,” Hannah Roth said.
That is why she is working to establish a plastic bag fee in Port Washington and possibly countywide, said Roth,a senior at Schreiber High School and the president of the school’s environmental club
“In Washington D.C. a fee was placed on plastic bags and it was estimated that the consumers went from using 270 million bags per year to 55 million bags per year. Bringing this fee into Port Washington will make such a difference in the beautification of our communities environment,” she said.
This is not the first environmental initiative Roth, 17, has been involved with.
She is also a member of Treehuggers, an environmental group at the high school, with whom she has worked to educate others about the negative effects of meat production, the importance of composting, and bottle cap recycling.
Though Treehuggers, Roth became involved with Residents Forward, a Port Washington-based organization that partially focuses on the environmental advocacy, and proposed her idea of a plastic bag fee to the organization’s executive director, Mindy Germain.
“She immediately jumped on board and we created a Bag the Bag group, made up of Port Washington residents who cared about the amount of plastic bags in our community,” Roth said.
Roth conducted a study where she surveyed Port Washington residents “to find out how our community feels about plastic bags and their reactions to a fee.”
She said after receiving 473 responses, the results pointed to residents being open to the implementation of a plastic bag fee.
“The survey results show that 99 percent of people expressed concern with the amount of plastic in our environment and 93 percent of 470 people aim to use more reusable bags.”
Roth provided the results of her research to county legislators when she spoke in front of the Nassau County Legislature at their November meeting to advocate for a countywide plastic bag fee, similar to that of neighboring Suffolk County.
The seven Democrats of the Nassau County Legislature submitted legislation to impose a plastic bag fee in May and it has yet to go up to vote.
The proposed legislation would establish a five-cent fee for single-use plastic bags and in the past has been backed by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.
Roth was joined at the meeting by her fellow girl scouts who also attended in order to urge legislators to bring the bill to a vote.
A girl scout since the second grade, Roth has incorporated reducing plastic bag usage into her Girl Scout Gold Award project which she will complete this year.
In her speech, she said that Suffolk County saw a decrease from 70 percent of people using plastic bags in the county to 31 percent of people after the establishment of the five-cent fee.
Roth, who recently committed to SUNY Binghamton with plans of going into Pre-Med, also cited potential health risks in her speech. She pointed to a recent study conducted by Philipp Schwabl, a gastroenterologist, and presented at the United European Gastroenterology conference in Vienna which had found that every participant had small pieces of plastic, or microplastics, in their stool sample.
“Now we have research to show that soon we will reach a point of no return,” she said.
“We are so proud of Hannah and all of the other students who are helping us with various environmental projects,” Germain said in a news release. “Their passion and tenacity give us solace and confidence in our planet’s future.”
Nassau County Legis. Delia Deriggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) voiced her support of a plastic bag fee in a recent news release.
“There is no downside whatsoever for adopting this legislation to charge a very nominal five-cent fee for disposable plastic bags,” she said. “I urge everyone who agrees to contact their legislator and request that they pass the plastic bag fee bill.”
Roth said she is grateful for the opportunity to speak in front of the Legislature because she feels her generation “has not been accurately represented in this discussion.”
“In 2050, I will be 49 years old. Time after time the research and facts have been ignored because we are too busy focusing on legislation to change the present. However, I know that as a young adult I can no longer sit by and watch what is happening to the environment,” she said.
“The future is the world that I will raise my children in, and I don’t want to explain to them how I sat by and watched the environment subside.”