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City Council Approves YAC Recommendation to Restrict Single-Use Plastic Bags
Plan to bring your own reusable shopping bags to grocery stores in Hillsboro next summer.
But why wait?
Following the recommendation of Hillsboro’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC), the Hillsboro City Council voted unanimously on November 6 to restrict single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and large retailers starting in July 2019 — meaning they would no longer offer plastic bags at checkout. The restrictions do not apply to plastic bags for food (such as produce), laundry, and pet waste.
“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. However, when you’re walking out of the grocery store, there would not be a plastic bag option at the check-out aisle,” explained Ryan Smith, co-chair of YAC, and a junior at Glencoe High School.
The Council's decision led to thunderous applause from inside of the Shirley Huffman Auditorium. As YAC member and Liberty High School senior Kelly Xu described, the ordinance “encourages the use of reusable bags, while simultaneously reducing single-use plastic bags at retail establishments in Hillsboro."
Restaurants, smaller retail outlets, and City sponsored and permitted events have until 2020 under the terms of the policy inspired by YAC’s Sustainable Shopping Initiative. The decision marked the first youth-led City Council policy initiative in the history of the City of Hillsboro.
According to YAC members, their research indicated Hillsboro customers use 44 million plastic bags each year, yet less than 10 percent of those bags are recovered as recycled materials.
“Nothing used for 10 minutes should be in our environment for hundreds of years,” said YAC member Nisala Kalupahana, a Glencoe High School student. “These bags don’t biodegrade.”
Kalupahana described the environmental benefits of reducing the use of plastic bags to eliminate litter and waste, and to protect birds and other wildlife.
“If even one percent of these are going out into the environment, that’s a pretty big impact,” added Smith.
Community Outreach, Business Support
Part of the Council’s consideration of the plastic bag restrictions was the impact that the City’s restrictions would have on local businesses, including grocery stores.
Over the past two years, YAC members researched the issue, reached out to community stakeholders and businesses, and conducted a bilingual questionnaire that received more than 1,000 responses in advance of asking the City Council to take action. Three-quarters of respondents supported the policy idea.
“We took the survey to community events, like the Proud to Be HSD Festival, the Latino Cultural Festival, the Hillsboro Party in the Park, and Celebrate Hillsboro; as well as the Tuesday and Sunday markets, and the Hillsboro Public Library,” said Tasha Robinson, co-chair of YAC, and a senior at Glencoe High School.
Ten organizations formally endorsed the proposed ordinance either in person or via letter. The Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest Grocer’s Association were among members of the business community to voice support for the plan.
“We appreciate the opportunity for the Chamber to assist in the development of the proposal and truly believe the environmental benefits of this proposal far out-weigh the short-lived inconveniences that may be experienced,” said Hillsboro Chamber Board President Sarah McGraw-Plaster.
“It was so rewarding to see how our initiative brought together supporters from all corners of the community, from environmentalists, to the Chamber of Commerce and business groups, and even our state Representatives,” said Smith.
The ordinance includes a pass-through fee of five cents on recycled-content paper bags to help recover costs for paper bags — which are more expensive than plastic bags — and to encourage shoppers to use their own reusable bags instead. That fee would be optional for restaurants and small businesses with fewer than 10 employees, and the ordinance includes an exemption from the fee for qualifying customers from lower-income backgrounds.
Recyclers expect the reduction in plastic bags will help them improve the recycling process by eliminating contaminants. Plastic bags often get tangled and wrap around machinery, requiring workers to climb into the machines to remove them, while taking great caution to ensure their own safety. As Beth Vargas Duncan of the Oregon Refuse and Recycling Association put it, “A retail plastic bag ordinance can help increase awareness about single use items and provide another opportunity for educational outreach about ‘recycling right’.”
Council Offers Kudos to YAC Members
“Thank you for the thoughtful way you went about this, doing your research, getting all of the stakeholders on board, and presenting us with something I think we can all get behind,” said Council President Darell Lumaco to YAC members.
The Council will hold a second reading for the ordinance on November 20. YAC members said Hillsboro would be joining eight other cities in Oregon in restricting plastic bags, in addition to proposed restrictions in Salem and Bend.
Upon final adoption, City of Hillsboro employees would begin a business and community awareness and education campaign to ensure companies are not caught off guard by the plastic bag restrictions, and enforcement of the policy change would be based on complaints with an emphasis on education.
“You’ve been doing this for quite awhile 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, and that’s in large part due to the work that you’ve put in,” added Councilor Kyle Allen. “You’ve done an amazing job.”