By Mary Ellen Coulter

Do you have a point you’d like to make or an issue you feel strongly about? Submit a letter to the editor or a guest column.

Recent editorials published in the The Bulletin objected to the city ordinance to ban single-­use plastic bags that began on July 1st. The reasons cited include low cost, convenience, cleanliness and the potential for reuse (dog poop, trash bags, kitty litter) that these lightweight bags provide. In addition, it was mentioned that Bend’s bag ordinance is unnecessary due to the pending statewide ban set to begin Jan. 1.

For perspective, the local movement, Un-Bag Bend, was created in January 2018, when the green team from Pacific Crest Middle School joined several Bend citizens with the goal of following the example of other Oregon cities (Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, Ashland, McMinnville), to limit distribution of this form of plastic. This was prior to discussion of a statewide ban. This ordinance seemed especially reasonable in a city noted for tourism with the side effect of lots of visitor garbage, in addition to our own.

Un-Bag Bend, led by our student activists, gave presentations on several occasions to the City Council. The information provided was well-researched and included the following: One trillion bags are distributed worldwide each year; 80% of plastic bag waste ends up in oceans, on beaches and waterways; only 1% are recycled; and each bag takes approximately 500 years to degrade. Disbelievers can watch a recent episode of the TV show “60 Minutes,” which visited oceans, beaches and remote islands around the globe, inundated with mounds of plastic waste. The devastation to local economies and wildlife is a direct consequence. As a result, a multitude of cities and countries worldwide are passing ordinances to include plastic straws, styrofoam and plastic utensils to their plastic bag bans. Some nations confiscate plastic bags at the point of entry into their country, and one nation will jail repeat offenders! Pirates in Somalia petitioned their government to ban these bags as they interfere with their ocean activities.

Overall, the point is that we need to revisit our relationship to all forms of waste that we generate. The aforementioned plastic bag ban is a baby step, singled out because it is a doable action and fairly easy to replace, particularly with reusable bags. Often, people mention they have bags, but have left them in the car or at home. Hopefully a small fee can provide a reminder!

Excess packaging is another avenue to be addressed, but why not begin with bringing a few bags when we shop. While it is not practical, or even probable, that as a society we will stop using plastic in the near future, public opinion, supported with buying power, can influence businesses, corporations and technology to provide alternatives that are biodegradable and nonpolluting.

Currently, there are seven categories of plastic and most can not be comingled. In fact, doing so, can ruin any potential for recycling. There are also potential health risks as some of these materials biodegrade into chemicals that can cause cancer, neurological problems and birth defects. While it is understandable how this haphazard system developed, it is no longer acceptable.

This brings us to the upcoming Bend City Council meeting, where a decision on whether to delay the Bend plastic bag ban until Jan. 1 to coincide with the statewide ban will be voted upon. There are several good reasons to keep the current ordinance in place.

First, signs, already posted in local grocery stores, have many of us remembering to bring our bags. We are creating a good habit, why break it! Secondly, we are generating less waste and hopefully our tax dollars can go to other important projects. Thirdly, the resolution as adopted has no penalty attached for at least 6 months, and stores are allowed to use bags purchased prior to the decree. Why encourage them to reverse this policy and provide confusion?

Fourth, demonstrating that we are concerned about reducing waste and conscious of its impact showcases Bend as a model for sustainability and livability.

— Mary Ellen Coulter lives in Bend.