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Youth Council proposal would nix plastic from grocers, restaurants across the city.

STAFF FILE PHOTO - Hillsboro is looking at potentially banning plastic bags from grocery stores, restaurants and other city businesses. The Council is expected to vote on the issue Nov. 20.Paper or plastic? The question may soon become a thing of the past in Hillsboro, where city councilors are considering banning plastic bags outright from area grocery stores and restaurants.

The council approved an initial reading of the ban on Nov. 6, calling for plastic bags to be phased out of use from area businesses. A final vote on the matter is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 20.

Under the proposed ban, plastic bags would no longer be allowed at checkouts at grocery stores or major retailers, but plastic bags would still be allowed in the produce aisle. Plastic bags would still be allowed for use in laundry and pet waste.

If approved, the ban would go into place July 2019. Smaller retail outlets, restaurants and other local businesses will have until 2020 to make the switch away from plastic bags.

The ban was proposed by the city's Youth Advisory Council — a city committee of teenagers who weigh in on city issues that impact area youth. The group recommended the council adopt a ban on plastic bags earlier this year, the proposed ban is the first time the city's YAC has made a policy proposal to the council.

"If you were to walk into a grocery store and go into the produce section and grab an apple, there would still be a plastic bag in the produce section for you to put the apple into," said Ryan Smith, a junior at Glencoe High School and co-chairman of the YAC. "However, when you're walking out of the grocery store, there would not be a plastic bag option at the check-out aisle."

YAC members have researched the issue for the past two years, according to city officials.

The ban is meant to encourage use of reusable bags. Banning plastic bags is believed to help protect birds and other wildlife, as well as cut down on litter.

"Nothing used for 10 minutes should be in our environment for hundreds of years," said YAC member Nisala Kalupahana, a student at Glencoe High School. "These bags don't biodegrade."

Plastic bags can be damaging to the environment, city officials said. According to the city, customers at Hillsboro business use 44 million plastic bags each year. Fewer than 10 percent of those bags are recycled appropriately.

"If even 1 percent of these are going out into the environment, that's a pretty big impact," Smith said.

A handful of Oregon cities have put restrictions on plastic bags. Salem passed a ban earlier this year. Portland has limited where plastic bags can be used. In 2017, Forest Grove banned the use of thin plastic bags in retail sales.

The proposed ban has been endorsed by the Northwest Grocer's Association and the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce.

"We … truly believe the environmental benefits of this proposal far out-weigh the short-lived inconveniences that may be experienced," said Sarah McGraw-Plaster, who serves as president of the Hillsboro Chamber's board of directors.

Paper bags are more expensive than plastic bags. The ban would give small retailers and restaurants the option to impose a 5 cent fee on paper bags, to help recover costs.

City councilors have been overwhelmingly in favor of the idea, and have praised the Youth Advisory Commission for coming forward with the proposal.

"You've been doing this for quite a while and it's clear that we have a good policy in front of us when we see all of the stakeholders come and voice support for it," City Councilor Kyle Allen said. "That's in large part due to the work that you've put in." You've done an amazing job."

The proposed ban hasn't been met with universal acclaim. Some residents have come out against the proposal, including Walt Hellman, a member of the city's Planning and Zoning Hearings Board.

Hellman said the timeline for the proposal doesn't leave enough time for the public to weigh in.

"There is no emergency here," Hellman said.

"Hillsboro government prides itself on obtaining public input regarding important government decisions. This is a great aspect of Hillsboro government," Hellman said. "Rushing the adoption of this ban into a two week period with virtually no public exposure to the issue is not the Hillsboro way."

Hellman said taxing plastic bags could have the same impact, without passing a ban on how businesses operate.

"It is exciting to think that with a 10 cent charge per plastic bag Hillsboro would enormously reduce plastic bag usage, probably by 80 percent or more," Hellman said. "At the same time (the funds could) raise funds for environmental efforts such as clean-ups, energy reduction and similar needed initiatives that are inadequately funded."

City councilors will take public comment on the plastic bag ban at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 20, at the Hillsboro Civic Center, 150 E. Main St.



By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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