As concern about the impacts of plastic on our environment has continued to mount, city level bans on single-use plastic grocery bags have been sweeping across Oregon. In the past week alone, Salem and Hillsboro have both adopted ordinances to ban plastic bags, joining several cities across Oregon that have already done so. The cities of Bend and Lake Oswego are considering similar ordinances next week. Banning single-use plastic grocery bags help to reduce plastic waste and protect our treasured outdoor places and wildlife. After all, nothing we use for ten minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years.
Every day, Americans throw away an estimated 300 million single-use plastic bags. For many of us, they’re an ubiquitous part of our daily and weekly routines when we go to the grocery store and carry our groceries home. Unfortunately, they’ve also become ubiquitous in our lakes, rivers, oceans, forests, and other outdoor areas. Less than two percent of those bags are recycled, making bags one of the most common single-use plastics found in the environment. To make matters even worse, plastic bags don’t biodegrade and thus persist in our environment for hundreds of years.
In addition, we’ve known for decades that plastic pollution is harming our wildlife. Scientists have found plastic fragments in literally hundreds of species, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species, and 43% of all marine mammal species. Ingesting these fragments is often fatal. When animals ingest plastic waste, it can block their digestive tracts, and they starve as a result: horrifying and saddening videos of whales and other sea creatures washed up on the beach with stomachs full of plastic bags have made the rounds on social media repeatedly in recent years.
Fortunately, Oregonians have recognized that it’s high time we get rid of these harmful bags, and cities across Oregon are putting their desire to protect our environment and wildlife into action. At the beginning of 2018, Ashland, Manzanita, Corvallis, Eugene, Forest Grove, Hood River, Manzanita, McMinnville, and Portland had already banned plastic grocery bags. Milwaukie passed an ordinance to do the same in August, and this fall many other cities across the state have been discussing similar ordinances. Within the past week, Salem and Hillsboro both passed ordinances banning the bag after seeing widespread community support for the measures. Next week, the cities of Lake Oswego and Bend will be discussing ordinances banning plastic bags, and there will be an effort to ban the bag across the entire state in the 2019 legislative session.
Our environment and natural spaces are rightly treasured by Oregonians, and it’s encouraging and exciting to see so many municipalities across the state taking action to protect them. The entire state of Oregon should be next.