Amy Rathfelder and Pete Chism-Winfield

“I think it’s really important to get straws out of our waterways. The Pacific Ocean is a defining part of our state, and Oregonians gravitate towards the coast and other natural areas in Oregon.”

The City of Portland is not one to sit idly by and leave Oregon’s environment and wildlife without someone to fight for it. In June 2018, the Portland City Council passed a resolution that directs the introduction of a policy on the reduction of single-use plastics with a focus on plastic straws. The city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is responsible to create a plan to reduce single-use non-recyclable plastics which will be reviewed and voted on this October. Since becoming the first US city to adopt a plan for reducing carbon emissions in 1993 – the Global Warming Reduction Strategy – Portland has been a leader on environmental action, with the ban on single-use plastic bags among other things. The City of Portland is really involved in the climate movement. Amy Rathfelder, the Environmental and Sustainability Policy Advisor for Portland Mayor, Ted Wheeler, sat down with Pete Chism-Winfield from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to talk about the plastic reduction policy for Portland that they are both working on. Amy explained, “We are part of a working group for single-use plastic resolution with a focus on straws. We are trying to use a short timeline to come up with something that will be effective, balance needs of the community, and address the needs of the American Disabilities Act.”

Pete says though the United States’ efforts to create effective waste management systems have been effective, it is incredibly important to think about ways to cut down on single-use non-recyclable plastics because of the high rate at which they are being used and disposed, making their way out into natural environments all around the world. “It is hard to nail down the exact number for our country’s contribution to plastic in the ocean, but in the US, we have a pretty good handle on managing solid waste in proper landfills so that it doesn’t end up polluting the environment. Despite this, everywhere you walk in Portland, you see straws, littered on sidewalks, this is a visible blight. A lot of these straws might get picked up at some point, but many will get into waterways and then into the ocean, and we are trying to minimize that number.” Amy added to this, “I think it’s really important to get straws out of our waterways. The Pacific Ocean is a defining part of our state, and Oregonians gravitate towards the coast and other natural areas in Oregon. To see those areas polluted is a moral, social, and environmental issue, but it is also an awareness issue. I would urge people to start small with straws, then we can focus on single-use disposable items in general.”

Amy commented on the strong support in the Portland community for a ban on single-use plastics. “Throughout the resolution passing and the development of this policy, support has been great, people are really on board. There are individuals and businesses who have already implemented ‘no straw’ or ‘straw upon request’ policies and who have testified about how well it is going for them.” After hearing voices of opposition and criticism from the ADA community, Pete says that they want to make sure that they are making an inclusive and comprehensive policy. “We want to make sure we are not creating a situation for opposition where there doesn’t need to be one.” Feedback from the ADA community has certainly been taken into consideration in the development of this policy. Daily straw users have shared their experiences with different kinds of reusable straws and talked about how difficult they can be, especially when an individual has limited ability to control their jaw movements and requires a type of straw they can bite down on without harming themselves or damaging the straw. Pete says this feedback is so important because “we need to hear those things that were not previously considered in past straw bans.”

But although the support may be strong, that does not mean a ban will be easy. “Fast food is going to be a big challenge, and figuring out how a business, which is setup to give out single-use disposable products (straws, cutlery, to go containers, etc.) can work without them” Pete says. “We need to recognize that different types of businesses have different challenges and different opportunities to implement single-use plastic bans.”

“Oregon has a long legacy of environmental policy that started in early 1900s with the Willamette River cleanup and the first environmental activism protests, because industries were dumping byproducts into the river” Pete explained. “Fast forward 60 years and Tom McCall is governor of Oregon. He created both the first Bottle Bill, which reduced litter on roadways, and the Oregon Beach Bill, which ensured public access of Oregon beaches. With this legacy here in Oregon, there is also an expectation that as Oregonians, we will do something. It is how our activism in Oregon has been cultivated. People move here because of the environmental activism, they want to be part of our community because of what we do.” Amy commented that the issue of plastic pollution is really personally motivating for her. “I grew up here and that is a big factor in what motivates me. I feel lucky to be working in environmental policy in a city like Portland. And at this point it’s honestly more of a common sense thing to be doing plastic reduction policy work because we have to do something.”  

“We want to encourage people to start small and look at their own individual behaviors, which may be inevident or subconscious.” Amy urges. “One thing that this work on single-use plastics has taught me is that if we start small, with a straw, we can see how much of our lives is plastic, and this leads to bigger conversations. The work on climate change is going to be a collection of small efforts, it starts with individuals looking at their own lives and asking how they can make a difference.”amypete10-e1534802678372.jpg

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