College students pick up plastic at South Jetty

Wildlife Over Waste River Cleanup targets foam, microplastics

Sept. 4, 2019 — The Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) sent a contingent of students to the South Jetty of the Siuslaw River on Saturday with a two-fold purpose. The first was to help interested locals clean the beaches by the jetty and dune trails at the popular hiking location. The second was to raise awareness on a topic that Florence consumers and businesses are very familiar with: Styrofoam, or Poly-Styrene Foam (PSF).

Darcy O’Brien is the OSPIRG Campus Organizer at Southern Oregon University who helped coordinate the Wildlife Over Waste River Cleanup.

While the turnout for the clean-up was light, the enthusiasm of those who did participate was high.

“We spent about two hours walking along the beach picking up trash, and each collected about a medium-sized bag full,” O’Brien said. “Although the beach seemed clean, there were plenty of bottles and larger pieces of trash. Nearly every patch of sand had some form of small plastic pieces, including a toy army man who’d lost his limbs and had been sanded down over time.”

Currently, OSPIRG is encouraging municipalities to follow in the path set by Florence to completely ban PSF in all of its many forms across the state. Some progress has been made in this effort, but a statewide ban on the food related materials has proven difficult.

The primary reason for the focus on PSF is the tendency of the material to break down into small pieces, known as micro-particles. These particles of plastic are extremely difficult to collect once they have deteriorated and become mixed with sand, dirt and other organic materials found in nature.

The PSF particles cannot be easily picked up by hand and sea creatures and birds will often ingest them with the food they eat. The toxins used to create and bind PSF containers can then progress up the food chain, eventually making their way into humans, where these chemicals have been shown to cause cancer.

In 2017, Florence City Council passed Ordinance 12, which changed city code to phase in a complete ban on most, but not all, of the associated usages for PSFs within city limits.

The city has provided information at to residents regarding the ban, which includes the following guidelines for the change: “The changes affect the sale and distribution of PSF containers for food, beverages, bait, and other uses. This means plates, bowls, clamshells, egg cartons, bait tubs and other containers are no longer permitted. Personal use of foam containers in your residence is allowed. Exceptions exist for coolers, ice chests and trays for raw meat and seafood intended for human consumption.”

There have been a small number of waivers given by the city to retailers that have been unable to find allowed substitutes for PSF containers, but those exemptions were only good for a year and most are due to expire soon. This will force retailers to make the transition to either a paper-based container or eliminate the product from their inventory.

On Saturday, OSPIRG students from Southern Oregon University were joined by a few Florence residents, including environmental activists Mike and Pat Allen, who are frequent users of the trails and dunes at the South Jetty and strongly supported Florence’s ban on PSF.

“In the space of two hours, each participant in our group of 11 picked up a bag of trash,” Pat said. “The bags’ contents ran the gamut from Styrofoam ‘beads,’ plastic bottles and bottle caps (both metal and plastic), to filled plastic ‘doggie bags.’ The sheer volume of small and micro-pieces of plastic found in the sand that don’t biodegrade, as well as the incredible amount of cigarette butts (filters) that take years to biodegrade, was staggering.”

According to Pat, the Allens joined the small, dedicated group at the South Jetty because the damage being done to the area on a long-term basis needed to be addressed. It was also a way for the long-time couple to celebrate a special day.

“This weekend, Mike and I decided to celebrate our 58th wedding anniversary in an unusual way — we participated in the beach clean-up,” she said. “After reading about the OSPIRG students in the Wednesday, Aug. 28, edition of the Siuslaw News, we decided to join these young people in their effort to bring attention to a statewide ban on single-use foam cups and take-out containers — much like the city of Florence has in place.”

The trend towards banning PSF’s in the state is accelerating, with municipalities like Portland recently enacting a ban, but a statewide measure failed this June, when two Democrats joined all Republicans in the Senate with a “no” vote on the measure.

OSPIRG is a statewide student-run, student-funded, nonprofit working towards a greener, healthier, meaningful future. Chapters of OSPIRG currently meet at University of Oregon, Southern Oregon University and Lane Community College.

“The future belongs to young people,” states the group’s website. “It’s up to us to dream it up and build the people power to make it a reality.”

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