On Sept. 5, Manzanita became the first city on the Oregon coast to ban single-use plastic carryout bags. The ordinance was passed by unanimous vote of the city council and will take effect Nov. 5. Manzanita, a city of 725 residents 14 miles south of Cannon Beach, joins Oregon cities such as Ashland, Corvallis and Portland; the state of California; and countries such as France, Italy and Kenya in eliminating these bags, which are used for a few seconds, then discarded to forever harm the environment.

The bag ban endeavor began a little over a year ago, in a discussion between board members of CARTM, the local recycling center, and Jan Behrs, a new resident shocked at the amount of plastic debris on Manzanita’s beautiful beaches. CARTM began sponsoring films and awareness activities within the city, and initiated a petition to gauge residents and visitors interests in a bag ban.

Plastic art from beach debris

A plastic collage from local beaches, circa Manzanita school kids 2010. While the organized effort to ban plastic bags may have only take a year, plastic pollution has been an area of education in the community for nearly a decade.

Committee members also surveyed the city’s businesses on the effect a ban would have on them and came up with positive results. Manzanita’s community culture strongly supports recycling and environmental safety; most merchants already use paper bags and were willing to encourage customers to bring their own.

Pulling from lessons learned in other cities, the group drafted an ordinance with language reflecting that of other Oregon bag ordinances, in hopes of someday cheering a statewide ban. Members presented it to City Manager Jerry Taylor, who put it on the council’s July 12 agenda.

Megan Ponder, who worked closely with Surfrider’s Portland Chapter and the Mayor’s office in leading the development and implementation of Portland’s bag ban, noted: “Manzanita experiences the impact of plastic pollution on its beaches daily. As the first coastal community in Oregon to ban single-use plastic bags, Manzanita is a leader, taking action on an issue important to its residents that will inspire other coastal communities impacted by plastic pollution.”

Often only used once, bags like this one on a Oregon snowy plover beach threaten wildlife for generations to come. Photo: OPRD

Often only used once, bags like this one on a Oregon snowy plover beach threaten wildlife for generations to come. Photo: OPRD

The small group that drafted the ordinance hopes other coastal cities will follow suit and join the effort to reduce plastic pollution filling the ocean, marring beaches and killing wildlife. As committee member on the bag campaign effort Michael Maginnis said: “Thank you, Manzanita, for valuing a clean beach and a bag-free ocean! And, to the rest of our great beach towns: Who’s next?”

Newport, Coos Bay, Yachats, and Cannon Beach are all Oregon coastal towns that have considered or worked on a plastic bag ordinance over the past 4 years, all ultimately folding under big plastic pressure. Newport went as far as a near unanimous vote to ban plastic bags, passing a ban ordinance in 2011, then recalling their own vote at the next meeting. Newport’s council then developed a Mayor’s Task Force that met for over a year to develop an ordinance for that represented a variety of stakeholders and business efforts. The council, , could not come to a decision on the ordinance that there very own task force recommended, ultimately sending the issue to the ballot.

Plastic bags and other items pollute a nearby roadway in Newport, note the sign for a recycling center…

Stories like Newport are a demonstration of just how challenging the politics and plastic industry can be when it comes to moving forward on sensible pollution issues…and from Manzanita, a heartening take on the power of grassroots, big plastic never saw them coming. So for Surfrider we ask, whose next as we applaud the grassroots organizing and community of Manzanita for their leadership with coastal communities in Oregon…it’s proof that we can still make a difference locally in this challenging political landscape.

Council President Linda Kozlowski had kudos for all involved: “We live in an amazing place where we are always looking for ways we can better our community. The fact that a group of citizens took the initiative to do their homework and come to the council with a well-thought-out strategy to end the use of single-use plastic bags was awe-inspiring. I am so very proud of our community – especially our business community – for stepping up and supporting this ban.”