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Oregon Legislature Sine Die (copy)

People watch a video after the House of Representatives enacted Sine Die to adjourn the legislative session at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore. on Friday, July 7, 2017. The Oregon Legislature has adjourned the 2017 session that saw the passage of record-funding for schools, a long-term transportation package, gun restrictions, cost-free abortions and health care funding for Medicaid and undocumented immigrants. (Anna Reed/Statesman-Journal via AP)

This likely isn't the most important issue facing the 2019 session of the Oregon Legislature, but it's still been interesting to watch the progress of the handful of bills filed (seven, by our admittedly unscientific count) that target plastic.

And, although there's still plenty of time in the session for bills to run aground (or, for that matter, to return from the dead), at least one of those bills appears to have momentum: The state Senate last week passed Senate Bill 90, which prohibits food and beverage establishments from providing single-use plastic straws, unless requested by customers. (Drive-through customers still could be offered straws.)

The measure is similar to an ordinance that takes effect in Portland this July, although the Portland ordinance also applies to plastic utensils. Even though the ordinance has not yet officially taken effect in Portland, news reports suggest it's already having an impact in reducing the number of plastic straws that are tossed into the garbage.

And that's the point: “We use a straw for less than an hour, but it continues to exist in nature for far longer than our lifetime,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland. “And this is a big problem for us all. We can use a straw, throw it away and forget about it as an inconsequential part of our lives. But that straw can easily end up in the ocean or somewhere else in nature. There, a single straw can have significant and sometimes deadly impacts on animals. The viral video of a turtle having a straw painfully removed from its nostril provides clear evidence that our seemingly inconsequential acts have significant consequences for other creatures.”

In fact, plastic straws are among the 10 most commonly found items during beach cleanups, according to representatives of the Surfrider Foundation. Oregon would not be the first state to ban use of single-use plastic straws; California was the first. And a number of businesses, including Starbucks, American Airlines and Hyatt, are phasing out straws in their businesses, responding, as businesses do, to market preferences.

As you would expect, the bill was heavily favored by Democrats (all 18 in the Senate voted to approve the bill), but it also attracted some support from Republicans: Of the 11 Republicans who voted on the measure, five voted in favor.

We suspect that part of this generally bipartisan support comes from the fact that the proposed straw ban really isn't a ban: If you want a straw for your milkshake — and you might — just ask for one. (Frequent milkshake consumers may want to invest in one of the increasing number of reusable alternatives; they may also want to offer thanks to whatever benevolent force allows them to frequently consume milkshakes.)  

As far as the other bills regarding plastic use in the Legislature, most appear to have fallen by the wayside, although one did manage to get a committee vote last week: House Bill 2509, which in general would prohibit retail establishments from providing single-use checkout bags to customers, won a "do-pass" recommendation from the House Committee on Energy and the Environment. The measure could get a vote soon from the full House. (Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, is among the bill's sponsors.)

For communities like Corvallis that already have a ban on single-use checkout bags, House Bill 2509 would not appear, at first glance, to make much of a difference — although if the bill somehow could remind us to pack our reusable bags every time we head out to the store, that would be useful. We also can see certain advantages to having one set of rules in place for the entire state, instead of a patchwork series of rules and regulations that varies from town to town. But judging by how frequently this bill has been amended thus far, our hunch is that it may have some rough sledding ahead. (mm)

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