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With Corvallis ban passed, conservationists hope to sack plastic elsewhere

Backers of the Corvallis ban on single-use plastic shopping bags cheered their victory at a press conference Tuesday morning and vowed to carry the fight to other Oregon communities, starting with Eugene.

Representatives of several conservation groups concerned about plastic pollution gathered at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library to praise the City Council for its unanimous vote to pass the ban Monday.

“We applaud the city of Corvallis for taking a strong and bold step toward conservation,” said Sarah Higginbotham of Environment Oregon, which joined with the Surfrider Foundation to help get a similar measure passed in Portland last year.

The goal of both laws is to encourage consumers to use recyclable shopping bags, but Corvallis went further than Portland by requiring grocers and other retailers to charge a 5-cent minimum pass-through fee for paper bags.

“That is a landmark moment in the history of our state,” Higginbotham said.

She added that her group would push for a similar provision in Eugene, where the City Council has a work session scheduled on a proposed bag ban for July 23. Environment Oregon is also communicating with activists promoting similar actions elsewhere around the state, most notably Ashland.

“The No. 1 thing is we want to work with communities where there’s already momentum on this issue,” Higginbotham said.

The press conference also featured a ceremonial farewell to the Bag Monster, a costumed character that became a familiar sight at Corvallis City Council meetings, the local farmers market and elsewhere during the push for the ban.

Stitched together from 500 plastic bags (said to be the number an average consumer goes through in one year), the suit was on loan from ChicoBag, a California company that manufactures reusable shopping bags, and will now be used by activists in Eugene.

“I’m very disappointed in the city of Corvallis that it has banned me,” said Environment Oregon intern Selin Nurgun, speaking as the Bag Monster. “I’m going to fight for my right to pollute the environment in Eugene.”

Several other ban supporters spoke at Tuesday’s press conference, including City Councilor Joel Hirsch. The Ward 6 representative said the Corvallis ban enjoyed widespread local support and hoped it would “make a dent” in the steady stream of plastic waste flowing into the world’s rivers, lakes and oceans.

Debra Higbee-Sudyka of the local Sierra Club group, who led the charge for the ordinance, said her group would continue to work with the city to educate retailers and the general public about the new rules, which will kick in at the first of the year.

“It’s not like you do something and and you’re done and you just walk away,” she said. “That’s not sustainable.”

Environment Oregon and the Surfrider Foundation have also pledged to help Corvallis store owners and their customers make the transition to reusable bags. The organizations have taken similar steps in Portland, giving away reusable bags, distributing pamphlets and chatting up shoppers on the merits of giving up plastic.

In general, Corvallis’ ban applies to single-use plastic shopping bags at retail outlets. It doesn’t cover bags for wrapping meat, produce or bulk food items. Bars and restaurants are exempt, as are pharmacy prescription bags.

Businesses covered by the law will be required to charge 5 cents or more for paper grocery bags to encourage consumers to make the switch to reusable bags for carrying purchases.

The ban goes into effect Jan. 1 for companies with more than 50 employees, while smaller firms will have an additional six months to comply.

Violators will face a $200 fine.

Contact reporter Bennett Hall at bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9529.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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