A periodic effort to outlaw plastic grocery bags is back in Bend, with a group of local environmental activists and sixth-graders planning to press the Bend City Council on Wednesday to enact a ban.
At least four Oregon cities — Portland, Corvallis, Eugene and Ashland — have already banned single-use plastic shopping bags, but efforts to pass a statewide ban have been unsuccessful. Local and state advocacy groups and a person covered with more than 400 plastic bags were similarly unsuccessful when they pushed the Bend City Council to ban plastic bags in 2013, but a new community group, Un-Bag Bend, thinks it’s the right time to try again.
The group wants to ban plastic bags because they are made from nonrenewable resources, can end up in lakes and rivers or littering land, are difficult to recycle and never entirely degrade. The ban wouldn’t affect paper bags.
Getting rid of plastic grocery bags may seem like a big change, but it could eventually be similar to banning smoking in restaurants, said Teafly Peterson, a local artist who co-founded Un-Bag Bend. Peterson moved to Bend in 2002 but worked in Portland from 2009 to ’14, during the period when that city banned plastic grocery bags. She said it was a positive change for shoppers and something large chains are already prepared to do.
“There’s so many places that have done it,” Peterson said. “You go to California or Portland or Eugene and you realize these big stores have already done it.”
Peterson and other volunteers have begun sewing old T-shirts into reusable bags, with plans to set up “take-a-bag, leave-a-bag” stands in grocery stores. She said that could be particularly helpful for tourists, who may not bring their reusable shopping bags when they visit Bend. Summer tourism seems to contribute to the high number of plastic bags and other trash littering area streets and parks, she said.
“It seems like something Bend should have done a while ago, especially with all the tourists we have,” Peterson said.
Timm Schimke, director of Deschutes County’s solid waste department, said plastic film products, including grocery bags, are common in Knott Landfill. However, the department doesn’t track how much of them go to the landfill, and the bags are light enough that they wouldn’t appear significant if tracked by the ton.
“We see a lot of them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a significant portion of our waste stream,” he said.
Plastic bags and other plastic film can’t be recycled with curbside recycling in Central Oregon, but many grocery stores accept it for recycling.
Mary Ellen Coulter, a physician at the Center for Integrative Medicine and another co-founder of Un-Bag Bend, said she’s always been passionate about the environment and particularly how environmental issues affect human health. She said plastic, including in grocery bags, appears to contribute to higher rates of infertility, hormonal imbalances and thyroid problems in young people.
Coulter said having young people involved in pushing for a ban will help make it successful this time. Several sixth-grade girls on Pacific Crest Middle School’s Green Team — a school club dedicated to sustainability — have been working on the project and plan to present a slideshow to the Bend City Council on Wednesday.
“I think including the younger generation is really the ticket,” Coulter said.
Iben Orton, one of the Pacific Crest students, said the students had a lot of people sign their petitions on Earth Day. She agreed that the push means more coming from children.
“We’re going to be here longer, and we want this planet to be clean,” she said. “I feel like when they see kids at City Council, they know it matters.”
The students decided to tackle plastic bags after watching a TED Talk by two sisters from Bali who started a campaign to ban plastic bags on their island. Bali’s governor eventually promised to ban plastic bags in 2018.
Pacific Crest sixth-grader Jesse Radzik said getting rid of plastic grocery bags is an easy first step to making Bend more sustainable.
“It’s a reasonable place to start, rather than saying you can’t drive a car and everyone has to walk,” she said.
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