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Environmental group to seek ordinance banning the single-use bags

If Debra Higbee-Sudyka had it her way, single-use plastic bags soon will be a thing of the past.

She might get her wish - in Corvallis, at least.

Higbee-Sudyka and other members of the Environmental Action Team of the Sierra Club's Marys Peak Group are in the hunt for 1,000 signatures that they hope will help them pass a city ordinance banning single-use carry-out plastic bags.

"I've been working really hard to get community support behind it," Higbee-Sudyka said. "We're just trying to come up with as many reasons to give (the City Council) to want to pass the ordinance."

It's similar to the bag ban ordinance Portland adopted recently, with a few key differences. First, "it's going to be for all retail stories," Higbee-Sudyka said. She said the Portland ordinance is aimed toward larger, corporate retailers.

Second, the Corvallis ordinance also would charge a 5-cent fee to customers who opt for a paper bag. "We want to incentivize people to switch to the reusable bags," which is the end goal, she said.

Third, the Portland ordinance allows compostable plastic bags.

"That's a problem; not all compostable bags are the same," she said. "Some only compost at high temperatures and some have a component of plastic in them, and some don't break down in ocean water."

So far, the group has collected around 600 signatures and hopes to meet its goal of 1,000 by Nov. 7, when it will present the ordinance to the Corvallis City Council.

It's not a new idea. Most of the groundwork for this ordinance was laid out in Oregon Senate Bill 536, an attempt this year at a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags that failed to pass the Legislature.

"In that measure, they have some language toward the end that said if this bill is not passed, we will consider introducing an ordinance," Higbee-Sudyka said.

The Corvallis ordinance would exempt bags that are 2.35 millimeters thick or thicker, because they're typically used several times. The ordinance also would exclude plastic bags used inside retail stores for produce or bulk items, pharmacy bags, door-hanger bags and newspaper bags, to name a few.

To garner awareness and support, the Environmental Action Team has offered free, public screenings around Corvallis of "Bag It!," a documentary on the long-term effects of disposable plastic bags on the environment. The next showing is 6 p.m. tonight at the public library, with the final showing set for 6 p.m. Monday in Kearney Hall at OSU.

"It gives you a good overview of what the issues are," Higbee-Sudyka said.

According to research cited by the Environmental Action Team, only 5 percent of disposable plastic bags are recycled, and Oregonians use an estimated 39 million of these bags per year.

The group cites their detrimental impact to plant, animal and ocean life, because they only partially degrade.

Higbee-Sudyka acknowledged change can be tough: People often forget to bring their reusable cloth bags to the store with them, or they wonder what they'll use to pick up their dog droppings.

"It's hard to introduce change because we're used to having it a certain way," she said. "So it's just getting used to that and finding strategies to get around it."

It could also mean significant change for many Corvallis businesses, especially groceries and larger retailers who rely heavily on plastic bags.

"It happened in Portland," said Corvallis Kmart manager Chuck Theodore. He said the Portland Kmart switched over to paper bags, although the stores there have only one size. "If it happens throughout Oregon, we're prepared."

Some Corvallis businesses, such as Local Boyz Hawaiian restaurant, use compostable plastic carry-out bags. Some, like clothing store Sibling Revelry, don't use plastic bags at all. And others, such as The Clothes Tree, hand out thicker, multiuse bags.

"I think we need plastic bags because of the weather we have," said The Clothes Tree owner Mardi Bilsland. "But there should be a choice for the retailer, and we should spend more effort on figuring out a way to recycle them before banning them."

San Francisco was the first U.S. city to ban single-use plastic bags in 2007, and Portland was the first city in Oregon to pass a similar ordinance. A handful of other cities have passed plastic bag bans, including Edmonds and Bellingham, Wash.; Aspen, Colo.; Brownsville, Texas and Washington, D.C., where customers are charged 5 cents per disposable bag.

Candice Ruud can be reached at 541-758-9542 or candice.ruud@gazettetimes.com.

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