Forest Grove, Hillsboro on right side with plastic bag bans
Grocery stores, restaurants, department stores and just about every other business in Hillsboro will undergo a change next year — one that takes inspiration from Forest Grove's work to protect the environment.
Last Tuesday, Nov. 20, the Hillsboro City Council approved a ban on single-use plastic bags within the city, meaning stores, eateries and other businesses will need to switch to paper bags, or turn to re-usable options, starting next summer.
It's a big change for Hillsboro, which will become the second city in Washington County to ban plastic bags, and one of only a handful in Oregon.
It's a move we support gladly, if not enthusiastically.
Forest Grove leaders passed a similar ban in 2016. In that time, plastic has disappeared from local grocery stores and restaurants. It hasn't caused any major issues we can find, and it's doing its part in addressing a serious issue in our community.
Many of us remember a time before plastic bags, which took the world by storm in the 1970s as a cheap, strong alternative that could carry just about anything. They were an item of convenience that changed the way shoppers interacted with local stores.
But more recently, we've started to wake up to the impacts that convenience is having on our environment.
Plastic bags block drains, get stuck in recycling machines and, more importantly, are harmful to the environment. Plastic bag pieces end up in birds' nests and are accidentally ingested by animals. The World Wildlife Fund, the world's largest conservation organization, estimates that more than 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other sea life die every year from eating or being trapped by plastic bags that have blown out to sea.
Plastic doesn't biodegrade, either, so that trip to Fred Meyer or WinCo will mean bits of plastic will continue to pollute not just for months or years, but centuries to come. Remember that the next time you spot a bag stuck in a tree or ditch.
Globally, Hillsboro and Forest Grove join a growing trend of governments taking a stand on plastic bags. Portland passed a plastic bag ban in 2011, and Eugene and Corvallis followed suit in 2012. Dozens of countries across the globe have passed bans or imposed taxes on the use of plastic bags. In August, grocery giant Kroger announced it would be phasing out its one-use plastic bags across its stores nationwide by 2025. Kroger runs Fred Meyer, QFC and several other grocery chains across the country.
"It's a bold move that will better protect our planet for future generations," Kroger's chairman and chief executive officer, Rodney McMullen, said in his announcement.
It's high time that we begin to understand the impacts that our actions have on the planet. And with little movement on the matter at the state or federal level, it's up to local cities and counties to pass this type of no-nonsense measure to keep our little part of the world green and beautiful.
In Forest Grove, it was the city's Sustainability Commission that proposed the ban, but Hillsboro's ban came from a rather unexpected place: the city's Youth Advisory Council, a group of high school students who advise the Hillsboro City Council on issues that impact area youth.
The students spent the past two years researching the issue, and presented their findings to the city in September, with a formal request that the city take action.
It's not surprising this is a matter that Hillsboro's children want to focus on. It's them, after all, who will have to live with the mess we leave behind. The city's young people should be commended for taking this step to help their community. This small but meaningful step is one way we can keep Washington County a great place to live for generations to come.
There are other alternatives Forest Grove and Hillsboro could have taken, such as limiting the ban to grocers only, or charging customers a tax on using such wasteful products, as Washington, D.C., does, but we believe, in the end, the cities chose correctly. This isn't just a super
market issue. It's a problem for businesses across every industry, and one that we can, and should, easily remedy.
But we admit this will come with some sacrifice. Like many, we keep leftover plastic bags around our kitchens for convenience, and the thought of giving those up means we'll have to do more. Local businesses in Hillsboro will have to buy more expensive paper bags (though the city has allowed a five-cent pass-through fee for customers to help off-set those costs).
This decision is one we applaud, though we'd love to have seen a little more public outreach on the city's part on this issue. Critics of this plan have said there wasn't enough time for the public to make their voices heard. The City Council discussed the issue on Sept. 4, passed a first reading on Nov. 6 and then approved it last week. The city doesn't have to hold a town hall on every single issue, but as this will have a significant impact on local businesses, it would have been nice to have at least one informational open house on the issue for concerned residents or business-owners, as the city has done repeatedly with its decision to implement body-worn cameras on its police force.
While comparing police cameras and plastic bags are clearly apples and oranges, the public ideally should have had a chance to learn more about the issue. As much as the city would love it to be true, not everyone pours over council meeting agendas as much as newspaper reporters do.
But all that aside, this is the right move for a city that is making a name for itself with its progressive approach to local issues, whether that's a new city-owned internet service planned for later this year, or its symbolic "sanctuary city" vote in 2017.
Plastics aren't evil, Hillsboro city officials told us, but they are harming our environment. And the truth is that these are inventions of convenience, and nothing more.
We existed before plastic bags. And we'll thrive after.
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