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Beth Dell: McMinnville bags it better

Hofmeester / Can Stock Photo
Hofmeester / Can Stock Photo

They have been called “plastic tumbleweeds.” (New York Times, Feb, 2017) They blow along our highways, snag on wild berry canes, contaminate our hay bales, float up to our stunning Oregon beaches, fill the gargantuan trash vortexes, swirling in the ocean and are even found in the bellies of dead sea animals washed ashore. They mistook this thin plastic bag for food and died of starvation. Although undeniably convenient and cheap, the ubiquitous plastic check-out bag has become a serious blight on our environment and on wildlife.

Zero Waste McMinnville named our campaign to eliminate plastic check-out bags, “Bag It Better.” We learned there is no reliable way to recycle these bags and most end up in landfills. They have proliferated in the environment worldwide because, if they do decompose at all, it takes a very long time.

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More than a year ago we expressed our concerns to the McMinnville City Council and the council voted to partner with Zero Waste on the “Bag It Better” campaign to eliminate the plastic check-out bag in McMinnville. Five other cities in Oregon have already done this: Corvallis, Forest Grove, Eugene, Portland and Ashland. We talked with those involved in both Corvallis and Forest Grove. We canvased our local store managers about their concerns. The City Council invited citizens of McMinnville to an open meeting to air their concerns or support. We listened.

The City Attorney and City Manager finalized an ordinance to eliminate the plastic checkout bag. It passed the City Council unanimously Feb.14 and will go into effect for the large stores on September 1, 2017 and for small stores on March 1, 2018.

Only the plastic check-out bag will be banned, not plastic bags for fresh fruits and vegetables, bulk items in bins, fresh and frozen meat, flowers and potted plants, bakery goods, prescriptions or carry-out restaurant food.

In large stores, there will be a cost of not less than 5 cents per recyclable paper bag requested by the customer at checkout. And a store may provide a recyclable paper bag at no cost to women issued a voucher under the WIC program or patrons using the Oregon Trail card.

Some of us will initially feel inconvenienced, but store managers in other towns report a fairly smooth transition. Try putting “don’t forget the reusable bags” at the top of your grocery list or storing your empty bags in the car. Zero Waste will have a limited supply of new, reusable bags to distribute and stores may have their own reusable bags for sale at a discounted price as we get started. Another option is to buy reusable bags from local thrift stores. Some stores may wish to put out empty boxes for customers’ use. Nancy Carlson, in the February 14, 2017 “Happy Tails” column in the News-Register, had a few options for pet owners who count on the check-out bags to clean up after their pets. These included using bread bags, newspaper sleeves or asking friends without pets to save additional bags for you.

We are proud that McMinnville has become the sixth city in Oregon to begin eliminating this plastic pollution in our local environment. And we hope the “Bag It Better” campaign will encourage us all to realize a larger vision. One that shifts our focus from downstream recycling, to upstream prevention. We owe future generations the safest, most pristine environment we can pass on to them.

Click here for FAQ’s about the city’s new rule.

Click here for the complete text of the ordinance.

Comments

CubFan

Does anyone know if it's possible to have this repealed? Perhaps collecting signatures?

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