From city-level initiatives like the Urban Growth Boundary, the Climate Resiliency Ordinance and a ban on single-use plastic bags, to an extensive history of grassroots environmental activism, the city of Eugene has long been a leader on environmental issues. Today, given the increasing scale and devastating impact of plastic pollution on our ecosystems and wildlife, it’s time for our city to take action again.
Every day, Oregonians consume millions and millions of pieces of single-use plastics, which are usually used for just a few minutes and then discarded. This plastic either piles up in our landfills or ends up trashing our parks, waterways and other natural areas, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces that are often ingested by wildlife. A stunning 86 percent of sea turtle species have been found with some sort of plastic in their bodies, in addition to 44 percent of all seabird species and 43 percent of all marine mammal species. To make matters worse, most plastics take hundreds of years to break down once they enter our environment, so our choices of quick convenience today will pollute the environment and threaten wildlife for centuries to come.
Fortunately, there are steps Eugene can take to reduce the environmental impact of single-use plastics: by preventing their use in the first place. For example, one of the most common uses for single-use plastics is for food and beverage containers and utensils, especially for takeout food. So instead of using non-recyclable materials like polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam) or other plastics, the city could require that restaurants use more environmentally friendly alternatives that can be recycled or composted, which would significantly reduce our overall plastic footprint.
This is not a new idea, and as the country and world become increasingly aware of the toll plastic pollution is taking on our ecosystems, communities and organizations are taking action.
More than 200 cities and communities across the country have already passed polystyrene foam bans, and the European Union recently voted for a complete ban on all single-use plastics. Companies and restaurants are also taking action to reduce their impact by using different materials: McDonald’s has committed to phasing out foam cups and containers by the end of 2018 in favor of 100 perent recycled materials.
Right here in Eugene, there are a variety of local restaurants that have stopped using polystyrene foam takeout containers and other harmful single-use plastics in the interests of protecting our environment and wildlife. The commitments of these restaurants display the continued innovation and environmental stewardship of Eugene’s restaurant sector, and provide a model for tackling plastic pollution here in our city.
Like many environmental issues, plastic pollution can seem overwhelming when considered at a broad scale. But recent examples of worldwide plastic action and the leadership of restaurants right here in Eugene who have committed to more sustainable plastics practices shows that reducing plastic pollution in Eugene is possible with simple but smart steps. We strongly urge the Eugene City Council to act on this issue as soon as possible, take bold action to reduce Eugene’s plastic footprint and make the city a continued leader on plastic pollution and environmental sustainability.
John Ammondson is a fellow with Environment Oregon, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. Emily Semple is the city councilor for Ward 1 in Eugene.