On Valentine’s Day, groups call on the Oregon Legislature to ‘break up with plastic’

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Salem, Ore.— Valentine’s Day is typically a day for expressing love and affection to romantic partners. However, it can also be a reminder of toxic relationships: like the one we have with plastics. This Valentine’s Day, environmental groups are calling on the state Legislature to “break up with plastic” by passing three Sen. Janeen Sollman-sponsored bills – Senate Bill 543, Senate Bill 544 and Senate Bill 545. The three bills, which all have public hearings Tuesday afternoon, aim to address the plastic waste crisis in various ways. 

“I am leading the charge in getting Oregon to break up with plastic because the consumption of plastic and the amount we produce, has us facing deeper impacts to our environment, economy and health,” said Oregon State Sen. Janeen Sollman. “Microplastics are already in our water, our soil, our air, and in our food chain, which ends up in our bodies. The time to reduce plastic waste was yesterday, we have no time to spare.”

An estimated 33 billion pounds of plastic enter the marine environment each year, devastating the world’s oceans. Much of this plastic waste comes from single-use plastics—packaging, food containers, or disposable foodware and other items that are typically used and discarded putting an immense burden on local governments to handle the waste. Once in the environment, most plastic does not go away, instead breaking up into smaller pieces that become nearly impossible to remove.

There are several bills under consideration in Salem that would address plastic pollution, including: Senate Bill 543 that would phase out polystyrene food serviceware, packing peanuts and coolers; Senate Bill 544 that would require producers of wasteful single-use plastic packaging and foodware reduce their use of plastic by 25% over the next decade; and Senate Bill 545 that would update the Oregon Health Code to make it easier for Oregon businesses and consumers shift to reusable and refillable containers.

“Nothing we use for just a few minutes should pollute the environment for hundreds of years,” said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, state director with Environment Oregon. “Oregon has a proud history of environmental stewardship, and we can and should be a national leader in preventing plastic pollution. It’s time for us to break up with plastic.”

“Plastic pollution is one of the greatest environmental catastrophes of our time,” said Charlie Plybon, Oregon policy manager with Surfrider Foundation. “Plastics are the leading form of pollution in marine litter worldwide, they do not biodegrade in our lifetime and persist in our ocean and environment, absorbing toxins and entering the food chain through fish, seabirds and other marine life. As a state with an ethos in stewarding our public beaches and ocean environments, Oregon should be leading the way in curbing plastic pollution at its source.”

“Our oceans are choking on plastics,” said Tara Brock, Pacific counsel for Oceana. “Oregon is not immune to these impacts. Plastics have been found in Pacific oysters and rockfish off our coast, and in water samples from the Columbia, Willamette, Rogue, and Deschutes Rivers. And it’s only going to get worse as plastic production is expected to quadruple by 2050. We have an opportunity here in Oregon to turn the tide on harmful, toxic and unnecessary plastic consumption. It’s long past time we acted.”

“Plastics have become so pervasive that we are now finding them everywhere we look — from the trails of Mount Hood and the shores of Cannon Beach to the food we eat and air we breathe,” said Dr. Anja Brandon, Associate Director, U.S. Plastics Policy Ocean Conservancy. “The most effective way to address this crisis is by making less plastics, period. Ocean Conservancy estimates that SB 544 would eliminate 1.1 million tons of single-use plastics in Oregon by 2030. We applaud Senator Sollman for leading this comprehensive package that will help protect our state and its residents from the impacts of plastic pollution.”

“It is disturbing that we are still using fossil-fuel based technologies to make one-time use food ware,” said Jamie Pang, Environmental Health Director at Oregon Environmental Council. “Food packaging and water bottles can release toxic chemicals like PVC and polyethylene into our food, and also into the air, water, and soil at the end of its life cycle. It’s time to address the environmental health disaster that is polystyrene and plastic foodware.”

Senate Bill 543, Senate Bill 544 and Senate Bill 545 will all have a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy & Environment on Tuesday, February 14th at 1pm in Hearing Room B.