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Oregon's Plastic Pollution Bills - Environmental Progress or Industry Stonewall?

Oregon's 2019 Legislative Session comes with a flurry of plastics legislation, but not all of the bills are supported or even introduced by the environmental community. In fact, some may do more to ensure a marketplace for single use plastics than eliminate them. Here's the scoop on the 8 different plastic bills introduced in the 2019 session, and where the environmental community stands:

Single-use Plastic Bags

House Bill 2509: As written with current amendments, this bill will do three important things that are supported by the environmental community, the majority of municipalities with or working on plastic bag policies and the Northwest Grocery Association. Thirteen out of the 17 cities that have banned plastic bags have followed the HB 2509 model:

·      Bans single-use plastic grocery bags, but does not ban produce bags, trash bags, dog waste bags.

·      Places a fee on paper bags to discourage customers from shifting from one single-use bag for another.

·      Places a fee on thicker plastic bags, sometimes referred to as “reusable plastic bags,” to prevent a nefarious loophole.

No other bill limiting the use of single-use plastic bags (HB 2673 and HB 2766) meets these three required criteria for both the grocery industry and the environmental community. Check out our one-page fact sheet to learn more about this important policy and visit Surfrider's campaign page to learn how to get involved.


A snippet from Environment Oregon's foam (polystyrene) campaign page

House Bill 2883: As written, this bill will ban polystyrene (more commonly known as Styrofoam) takeout containers and cups across the state. While this bill has come with a windfall of sponsors and supporters from both the House and the Senate, the plastic industry has been lobbying lawmakers heavily, more so than the plastic bag bills. Portland long led the way on this issue, now joined by other cities like Eugene. Check out Environment Oregon's campaign page to learn how to get involved.

Request only straws

Senate Bill 90 and House Bill 2670: As written, these bills would require all restaurants in Oregon, including drive-thrus, counter service and traditional dine-in restaurants, to only provide plastic straws if the customer requests it. However, this bill (SB 90) has gotten worse and worse from heavy plastic industry lobbying with a preemption strategy - amendments that essentially prevent municipal laws (like that of Portland), stymie local innovation and does more to ensure plastic straws aren't regulated than actually reducing them - read more about "preemption" below.  The politics behind this has a lot to do with ACC, Oregon Soft Drink PAC and McDonald's who aren't keen on a quilt of policies across the state or likely any policies at all. The environmental community does not currently support SB 90 with preemption amendments. 

House Bill 2800: As written, this bill would only apply to “full-service” restaurants and has a preemption clause. This bill will have a limited impact on preventing plastic pollution, since the bulk of straws polluting the environment are from drive-thrus and restaurants with counter service take-out, while also hamstringing local jurisdictions from passing meaningful straws policies. The environmental community does not currently support HB 2800.

Why Preemption is Premature for Straw Policy?

Preemption is a national strategy of the plastic industry to prevent any city, municipality or otherwise from seeking more aggressive plastic reduction strategies. Preemption in SB 90 and HB 2800 provides this industry assurance and may do more to ensure plastic straws have a marketplace than actually reducing them. At this point in our novel understanding of implementing straw policy, disallowing home rule for other solutions at the local level is premature. Furthermore, it hampers local innovation, often the incubator and driver for future statewide strategies. Here's a couple more reasons we and the rest of the environmental community are heavily opposed:

·      This is a very infant policy – it’s never been enacted anywhere in the state of Oregon (yet), thus prescribing the statewide solution, definitively with preemption, is poor policy before we’ve experienced it on the ground in at least one city and understand how business adapt. We are already learning challenges from CA execution of their new law (which doesn’t’ include preemption).

·      Cities are beginning to address single-use plastics with comprehensive policies that go well beyond the straw. Preemption on SB 90 would handcuff cities and require any city putting a comprehensive single use plastic policy together to carve out a special exception for straws.

Banning Plastic Wine Corks? 

House Bill 3089We didn't see this one coming! This bill, introduced by Representative Clem, would prohibit persons engaged in bottling wine for commercial purposes from using single-use plastic wine closures to seal wine bottles. This isn't one Surfrider Foundation or other environmental groups in Oregon have really researched or vetted with various industry stakeholders. While we love the idea of reducing a single-use plastic item like this, it's not a bill we see moving this session without broad grassroots support and industry dialogue - but we'll keep our eye on it!