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After Straws, What Will Be Next Plastic Items to Go?

The plastic in straws and other items breaks down in the ocean to small pieces that accumulate toxins. (Joel Bombardier/Flickr)
The plastic in straws and other items breaks down in the ocean to small pieces that accumulate toxins. (Joel Bombardier/Flickr)
June 25, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. — An effort to ban plastic straws is sweeping the nation, and Portland is one of the latest cities to consider eliminating these single-use items.

Last week, the city council voted to study ways in which the city can reduce use of non-recyclable plastics, specifically straws. And it directed the Planning and Sustainability Bureau to present a plan by October 1.

As the council noted, plastic straws aren't the only problem. But Charlie Plybon, Oregon policy manager with the environmental group Surfrider Foundation, said they are a good place to start on the issue of plastic overuse because they are products most of us can do without.

"We look at a lot of different places, like in California, places like Malibu,” Plybon said. “They've tacked on a lot of other single-use plastic items like forks and spoons and other things that are really a problem for waste management."

Plybon noted waste managers' struggle to dispose of these plastics is compounded by China's ban on some of the United States' trash.

Most critically, he said, plastics are hazardous to marine life. Plastics degrade into smaller pieces that often are eaten by animals. Plybon said they also tend to attract toxins, making them even more dangerous to the creatures that eat them.

Beyond straws and utensils, there currently is an effort to ban the use of closed-cell plastic foam containers statewide. But Plybon said single-use plastics are necessary in some ways.

"Certainly, when we look at maybe like the medical field and we look at sanitation, there's absolutely a need for some single-use products and that actually makes the world a safer, cleaner and healthier place for all of us,” he said.

Plybon said the birth of the plastics culture happened relatively recently, noting that the country mostly reused items before plastics took hold. He said consumers can't get us back to that place alone.

"It's not just the responsibility of the consumer, it's the responsibility of the producers as well,” Plybon said. “And so we really need to not browbeat and shame the consumer constantly, but really look up the chain here to the major producers of plastic and the manufacturers and demand, as consumers, alternatives."

The Surfrider Foundation and other organizations want to see Oregon reduce its use of plastics.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR