Oregon Lawmakers, Advocates, and Citizens Rally to Tackle Plastics Crisis - Oceana USA

Oregon Lawmakers, Advocates, and Citizens Rally to Tackle Plastics Crisis

Annual Rise Above Plastic Pollution Day in Salem draws many voices in support of current bills to reduce harmful single-use plastics in Oregon

Press Release Date: March 14, 2023

Location: Salem, OR


Jamie Karnik | email: jkarnik@oceana.org | tel: Jamie Karnik

On the annual Rise Above Plastic Pollution Day in Oregon, advocates hit the halls of Salem to support three bills that would significantly reduce the use of single-use plastics in Oregon and urge Oregon to be a leader in addressing the worldwide plastics crisis. The push for action was concurrent with the release of recent polling data from Oceana showing that 88% of Oregon voters support state and local policies to reduce single-use plastics.

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, who’s is the author of the federal Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, and State Senator Janeen Sollman, the chief sponsor of several state plastic reduction bills, joined advocates in their call for policies to reduce single use plastics and pave the way for reusable and refillable systems.

“When it comes to reducing waste, we were taught the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle; however, the reality for plastics is the three Bs: buried, burned, or borne out to sea,” said Senator Merkley, who serves as the Chair of the Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Chemical Safety Waste Management, Environmental Justice and Regulatory Oversight. “Plastic pollution has severe impacts on American’s health, frontline communities, and climate chaos. Oil companies invented a million uses for plastic, now we must design better alternatives—no more single-use plastics. Our kids’ health and futures depend on America leading the way to solve this problem.”

“I am leading the charge in getting Oregon to rise above plastic pollution because the amount of our consumption of plastic for convenience and packaging has us facing deeper impacts to our environment, economy and our health,” said Oregon State Sen. Janeen Sollman. “Microplastics are in our water, soil, air, and in our food chain, which ends up in our bodies. The time to reduce plastic waste was yesterday, we have no time to spare.”

Three bills currently in the Oregon Senate would reduce plastics in measurable and significant ways. Senate Bill 545, which gives more freedom to consumers and businesses to use reusable containers instead of single-use plastics, is expected to be scheduled for a vote on the Senate Floor in the coming days. Senate Bill 543, which prohibits the use of polystyrene foam bowls, plates, cups, lids, and clamshells, and phases out polystyrene foam packing peanuts and coolers, and Senate Bill 544, which would require producers of wasteful single-use plastic packaging and foodware reduce the number of these items by 25% over the next decade, had a public hearing in the Senate Energy and Environment Committee and advocates are hopeful that both bills will also be scheduled for a vote soon.

Oregon groups were encouraged by the overwhelming support of Oregonians to reduce single-use plastics, and called on state leaders to take immediate actions this session:

“Plastics are overwhelming our oceans, killing marine life, and devastating ecosystems. The only way to head off this crisis is to start reducing the amount of plastic we create, use and throw away, and to start doing that as quickly as possible,” said Tara Brock, Oceana’s Pacific Counsel based in Portland.  “These bills are practical ways to start addressing the plastic pollution here in Oregon, and we applaud the leadership of the committee and bill sponsors to address the plastics crisis.”

“Plastic pollution is one of the greatest environmental catastrophes of our time,” says Charlie Plybon, Oregon Policy Manager with Surfrider Foundation. “Plastics are the leading form of pollution in marine litter worldwide, they do not biodegrade in our lifetime and persist in our ocean and environment, absorbing toxins and entering the food chain through fish, seabirds and other marine life. As a state with an ethos in stewarding our public beaches and ocean environments, Oregon should be leading the way in curbing plastic pollution at its source.”

“Nothing we use for just a few minutes should pollute the environment for hundreds of years,” said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, State Director with Environment Oregon. “The bills that the Oregon legislature is considering this session to reduce plastic pollution would, if passed, help our state rise above plastic pollution and position us as a national leader in tackling this growing environmental issue.”

“These bills are so important because they are directly targeting items that we know are polluting beaches and waterways here in Oregon and all around the world in shocking quantities,” said Dr. Anja Brandon, Associate Director of U.S. Plastics Policy at Ocean Conservancy. “Data from nearly forty years of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup show that plastic food service ware and packaging are by far the most prevalent forms of plastic pollution that we see on shorelines around the globe, and polystyrene is especially problematic as it is effectively unrecyclable and quickly breaks up into tiny pieces in the environment, where it persists indefinitely.”

33 billion pounds of plastic enter the global marine environment every year. In Oregon, plastics have been found in Pacific oysters and rockfish, in the Willamette, Rogue and Deschutes rivers, in Crater Lake, and polluting beaches along the famed Oregon coast. Plastics have also been detected in air, water, food, beer, and the human body, and are now considered a public health issue as well as an environmental crisis.       

In addition, plastics are a major contributor to climate change; if measured the same way as individual nations plastics would be the world’s fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Plastics are a huge burden on Oregon communities, including costs to clean up plastic waste and exposure to pollution from plastic manufacturing, use, and disposal.

A growing number of other states and Oregon cities have already passed laws similar to the actions contained in the bills, and innovative Oregon businesses have already created and implemented reusable options to replace existing single-use plastic containers in many cases as well.