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Athens goes 'plastic-free by 2023'

Two years after Athens City Council passed a resolution to reduce the use of plastic within city events, the enforcement of the resolution will be in full effect within 2023.

In 2021, Council passed a resolution to have the city require that all events be "plastic-free by '23." Plastic-free events would mean the use of reusable cutlery, plates, cups, bags, tablecloths, etc., at events the city is responsible for.

“When Councilmember Chris Fahl was on council, she championed it through and it was made a resolution,” Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said. “It’s basically the city’s commitment to having city operations or the use of the city’s public right-of-way for events that they would be plastic-free within 2023.”

The resolution, R-15-21, also stated that by September 2023 the mayor would need to have conducted a waste audit of city buildings.

The switch from disposable to reusable items for events should only have about pennies-worth of a difference, Patterson said.

“Vendors who would be vending at those events cannot be selling bottled water (or) plastic bottled sodas,” Patterson said. "If they’re selling food, they can’t use plastic plates or cutlery.”

Many of the city's events are sponsored by outside vendors rather than the city itself, but if a street closure is requested, the event would be required to be plastic-free, Athens Deputy Service-Safety Director, Andrew Chiki, said.

Other examples of these events are Ohio Brew Week’s Last Call, the Halloween Block Party and the Athens Arts and Music Festival, Patterson said.

“Not every event is large-scale, some are much smaller,” Chiki said. “We have some things like car shows, where this probably won’t affect them in any meaningful or material way.”

However, Chiki said the outcome of Athens’ larger events being plastic-free could make a big difference in waste production.

“(Large events) have a lot of a lot of plates, a lot of cups, a lot of cutlery, they're much on a much larger scale,” Chiki said. “Those are impactful and I think would bring awareness to the wider community anyway because of the number of people it draws.”

The permitting process will state that it is required that vendors follow the plastic-free rule if they want to hold an event in the city and request a street closure. So far, there has not been an issue with vendors complying with the ordinance, Chiki said.

Chiki said that vendors have been on board with the resolution and have also worked with the Rural Action Zero Waste team to divert food waste from landfills.

Patterson said the plastic-free ordinance falls in line with the city’s sustainability goals, and the city has made strides in its sustainability, including the introduction of recycling bins uptown a few years ago.

“When I took office in 2016 as mayor, we didn't have recycling in the Uptown area,” Patterson said. “If you roll back to 2015, 2014, (waste from events) all went to landfills.”

A future sustainability project Patterson said he is excited about is the use of a solar array that will provide energy for the city’s wastewater treatment plant and the Athens Community Center. 

Clubs at Ohio University that are focused on eco-friendly efforts, like Bobcats Go Green, are enthused that Athens is becoming more sustainable.

President of Bobcats Go Green, Era Bakia, a senior studying Environmental Biology, has been working to implement strategies for a more eco-friendly community during her time at OU.

“When you’re talking about something like zero-waste events, those take a lot of effort and a lot of different influence, especially depending on the complexity of the event,” Bakia said. “As soon as you get into the idea of a network, and there’s all these people that can help make that effort happen, then that's going to be our way towards a more green OU.”


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