Oct. 6, 2018 — The problems with plastics continue to grow. Landfills are now the end destination for most plastic containers and plastic grocery bags used by consumers in Lane County and in much of Oregon.
The dangers of plastic in the environment are becoming more widely known and communities around the world and across the state are attempting to reduce the environmental damage by eliminating single-use plastic bags.
Florence is now in the initial stages of a process that will determine if it joins this growing list of municipalities.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over 380 billion plastic bags are used by Americans every year and 100 billion of these are single-use carry-out plastic bags.
The average length of use of the single-use plastic bags is 12 minutes, with only one in 200 being recycled. Even cities that continue to offer plastic recycling for their residents often do not accept the single-use plastic bag, as they can damage machines used in the recycling process.
Coastal communities, like Florence, are especially vulnerable to plastic bag pollution because of the likelihood of some of those bags ending up in the Pacific Ocean and the Siuslaw River. Plastic waste, but especially single-use plastic bags, work their way through the food chain in the ocean as many sea creatures misidentify plastic as food.
Birds, fish and crustaceans then eat the bits and pieces of the different types of plastic that are deteriorating in waterways, with some dying as a direct result.
The City of Florence Environmental Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) is contemplating a recommendation that would codify a ban on single-use carryout plastic bags. To assist in these deliberations, the city is asking for input from residents on the issue by offering a survey online that asks five questions related to plastic bag usage.
EMAC Chairwoman Maureen Miltenberger said she feels the time has come to consider the possibility of eliminating single-use plastic carry-out bags in Florence.
“If each one of us thought about where those bags would end up and the long-term impact each bag can have on streams, our ocean, storm drains, wildlife and our overall environment, then taking the small action to purchase an inexpensive bag to use over and over again becomes one of the logical actions we can take,” Miltenberger said.
EMAC’s survey asks consumers about their shopping habits, preferences regarding bags and their willingness to support a ban on single-use bags. It also asks local business owners if they would support a ban and why or why not.
Florence Planning Director Wendy FarleyCampbell coordinates the work done by EMAC, which advises the city council and planning commission. She wants to encourage residents to take the survey to provide guidance as the city deliberates the issue.
“The plastic bags under consideration are the type used in grocery stores at checkout. It would not include produce bags, trash bags or paper bags,” FarleyCampbell said.
In Oregon, major population centers like Eugene, Salem, Bend and Portland have passed regulations restricting the use of plastic bags.
Miltenberger believes that the recent action taken by the city to ban, over time, the use of styrofoam takeout containers provides a model that indicates residents may be ready to take another step in the direction of eliminating unnecessary waste from our landfills and waterways.
“We recently took the action to ban polystyrene, and during that process found that most businesses and customers were willing to do whatever it takes to help keep our rivers and land free of a substance that will take 500 years to forever to break down. In researching the life of plastic bags, we found the same to be true,” Miltenberger said. “We are asking shoppers to consider making a one-time purchase of bags that can be used over and over again, and for stores to provide those bags. That does not seem dramatic to me. What does seem dramatic is the long-term effect that plastics have on our environment and what our world will be like for coming generations if we don’t take some kind of action now.”
There are other smaller municipalities, similar in size to Florence, that have instituted a complete ban or a surcharge on the single-use plastic bag. These smaller towns include Corvallis, Tigard, Lake Oswego, Beaverton and Ashland.
Nationally, California, Washington D.C., Seattle and Boston have adopted single-use plastic bag bans or fee plans. Internationally, the United Kingdom, China, Australia, Chile and Kenya have instituted either an outright ban or a fee for using a single-use plastic bag.
The Chinese government recently reported that plastic waste from single-use plastic bags has decreased by almost 70 percent since the introduction of the ban.
The City’s EMAC survey will be open at ci.florence.or.us until Nov. 1.