Beloit College students this semester will research how Janesville can play a part in addressing an international concern: single-use plastic bags.
Students in Pablo Toral’s environmental politics class will gather information and case studies on how municipalities and businesses across the world have taken steps to reduce the use of such bags, Toral said.
The students will present the research to the Sustainable Janesville Committee when the semester ends. The committee then will use the information to formulate strategies to help residents use fewer bags, said Matt Robinson, an environmental technician for the city.
Toral said plastic bags damage the environment in several ways. Many of them end up in bodies of waters and in trees, and animals often mistake them for food and either choke or suffocate on them.
The bags take a long time to break down in landfills, and when they do, they disintegrate into smaller pieces that are ingested by animals, Toral said. Some of those animals are then eaten by humans.
Plastic bags also cause consumer prices to increase because stores have to pay for them, Toral said.
Wisconsin municipalities do not have the authority to regulate plastic bag usage, Robinson said.
However, the Janesville City Council in June passed a resolution supporting a state Assembly bill that would end the prohibition on regulating single-use containers. The bill is currently stuck in the Committee on Local Government, according to online Assembly records.
While the city cannot ban or tax the bags, Robinson said city officials could work with grocers and business owners to try to reduce bag use.
The sustainability committee has been looking for ways to address the plastic bag problem and was excited to partner with the students, he said.
The idea emerged during a recent discussion between city and Beloit College representatives on how to get students involved in local government, Robinson said.
Toral attended and thought the bag project would be a good one for his students.
“The fact the city was so eager to work with us made it a natural fit,” Toral said. “Truth is, we should have had a closer relationship with the city of Janesville because we get a lot of students from Janesville, and it is our neighbor.”
Toral said he encourages his students to devise their own research methods and find creative solutions for the community.
“By doing this assignment, we are fully engaging in that mission,” he said. “It is a win for the community and students.”