Single-use plastics regulations are a hot topic in Montana during this legislative session, pitting statewide uniformity against local control, all while environmental activists want what they say is best for communities.
When you crack open a bottle of water, it may seem convenient. But some of Montana's largest cities asking for local control back from the Legislature out of concerns for plastic bottles ending up in landfills.
“Single-use plastics are more painful for me to see than probably all the nails on all the chalkboards,” says Katie Harrison, founder of SustainaBillings. “I absolutely hate the existence of single-use plastics. I am very well aware that all plastic will eventually break down at the very most to microplastics, microplastics enter into our waterways, into our soil and that can actually end up in our food system and in our bodies.”
During the 2021 Montana legislative session, lawmakers passed HB 407, which is commonly called the ban on bans. The bill was a reaction to cities and states across the U.S. banning and taxing plastic bags to discourage their use.
House Bill 407 essentially made it so that cities and towns in Montana could not do the same, says Isaac Cheek, Grassroots Conservation Coordinator Cottonwood Environmental Law Firm.
Rep. Mark Noland, a Bigfork Republican, sponsored HB 407, which also standardized plastics regulation statewide. However, with no regulation in sight, the Bozeman City Council, in a recent unanimous vote, formally nudged the Legislature with a resolution designed to either regulate plastics or give local control back.
“I was blown away by what Bozeman's city council did,” says Harrison. “Now we have a framework to go on, so I'm really grateful and I hope the other major cities in Montana follow suit.”
In fact, Harrison reached out to the Billings City Council, and now council member Danny Choriki is presenting a similar resolution and expects it to hit the agenda in about a month.
“Just like we say with the states and federal governments, the local government in Montana are the places to try innovation,” says Choriki.
“I think local control is extremely important. I think that’s what our country is all about. I think that’s the heart of a lot of the Montana spirit, that’s independence, that’s true independence,” says Harrison. “Do a little bit of research and make a decision for yourself, and let's put a vote to the citizens of Billings.”
Until then, Isaac says Bozeman Rep. Ed Stafman, a Democrat, is drafting statewide legislation to repeal HB 407.
“Right now with the amount of stuff we’re putting into the landfill in Billings, we have about 80 years of room left there,” says Choriki. “The reality is there are kids who are growing up today that are going to have to deal with finding a new way of getting rid of stuff.”