For Oregon, it’s the last straw – plastic, that is

SALEM — When you get takeout food from your favorite restaurant, you might be handed a thin plastic bag, with foam containers inside containing your meal, plus a plastic straw or two if you ordered a drink.

Those straws? Gone.

The bag? History.

The foam containers? Not going anywhere.

State lawmakers delivered a split verdict on a group of bills cracking down on plastic wares that comes from retailers and vendors.

The Senate Tuesday approved House Bill 2509, which bans plastic checkout bags at stores and restaurants statewide starting next year.

Senators last week approved Senate Bill 90, prohibiting stores and restaurants from giving out plastic straws to customers. Customers can still ask for one under the legislation, which takes effect next year.

A third bill, House Bill 2883, that would have prevented vendors from providing food to customers in polystyrene containers failed 15-14. Three Democratic senators joined all 11 Republicans in opposition. It needed 16 votes to pass.

Most Republicans opposed all three bills. Some argued that paper alternatives to plastic straws and bags are inferior.

Notably, the bag bill requires grocers to sell checkout bags for a nickel each.

“The goal is to get people to … bring their own bags,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, who carried all three bills on the Senate floor.

Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, said banning single-use plastic bags is a good idea, but the fee will have “unintended consequences.”

“We continue … to think we cannot educate our people and we must punish them by fining them, punish them by raising costs, instead of actually talking to our citizens rationally,” Boquist said, arguing that adding a mandatory fee on paper bags would reduce their usage and hurt paper mills and recycling centers.

Since they were introduced into widespread use in the 1970s, plastic bags have risen in popularity at the expense of paper. One study suggested that Americans used more than 100 billion single-use plastic shopping bags in 2014.

“Single-use plastics, in general, are polluting our state and our planet,” said Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton.

The plastic straw bill doesn’t outright ban them, but such straws would no longer be the default option. Customers can request a plastic straw, but otherwise, vendors won’t be allowed to give them one.

By weight, straws make up a tiny fraction of 1% of all the plastic waste that’s thrown away. It would take more than two million plastic straws to make a ton.

However, straws can cause severe injury or death when they’re eaten by marine life. An international movement to ban plastic straws gained traction after a video was circulated in 2015 showing a straw being extracted from a sea turtle’s nose.

SB 90 will prevent local governments from completely banning plastic straws on their own.

Disability rights advocates argued that banning plastic straws altogether would be detrimental for people who need them for food and drinks.

Three Republicans — Sens. Cliff Bentz of Ontario, Bill Hansell of Umatilla County and Tim Knopp of Bend — supported the straw bill.

The straw and bag bills now head to Gov. Kate Brown for signature.

All Republicans opposed the polystyrene ban, and when Democratic Sens. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, Laurie Monnes Anderson of Gresham and Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay voted with them, it was enough to kill the bill.

One Oregon company, Tigard-based Agilyx Corp., accepts foam products for recycling. Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, argued that Oregon should embrace efforts to recycle more forms of plastic.

“If we ban this, we are giving up a worldwide opportunity to recycle plastic,” Olsen said.

Reporter Mark Miller: [email protected]. Miller works for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, Pamplin Media Group, and Salem Reporter.

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