In June 2018, Portland City Council directed the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) to develop a strategy to reduce single-use plastics and invite feedback from community members, hospitals and care facilities, and businesses that stock and supply straws.
City of Portland is considering a conditional ban as a response to the global plastic litter problem involving single-use plastics: Plastic straws are one of many items that are littering our land and oceans and impacting wildlife habitat. In fact, plastic straws are the 6th most frequently occurring litter in the United States, according to the 2017 Ocean Conservancy report. Over 663 species, including sea turtles, whales, dolphins and seabirds, are impacted by plastic, either by ingesting or becoming entangled in the plastic debris.
“A lot of people feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the plastic problem,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. “In 2011, Portlanders did an amazing job moving away from plastic bags at the grocery checkout. Giving up plastic straws is another important step in the right direction.”
Plastic does not biodegrade but instead breaks down into smaller pieces that enters the marine food chain. Note: Compostable plastic straws are not a viable alternative either because they do not break down in aquatic environments like our rivers and oceans.
In response to ocean plastics and litter, over 100 municipalities worldwide are banning or charging for plastic bags, and reusable bags are commonplace. Cities around the world such as Vancouver, BC., New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Boulder already have or are in the process of restricting straws and other single-use plastics.
“We’re really proud to see Portland businesses lead on this effort,” said Charlie Plybon, Surfrider Foundation’s Oregon Policy Manager, whose organization has already worked with over 100 businesses in Portland to phase out plastic straws.
BPS staff will incorporate public feedback and elements of lessons learned by other cities into the development of an ordinance. The City is committed to working with the community on a business-first approach, to ensure those impacted by the ordinance have an opportunity to voice concerns.
Consideration will be given to restaurant customers and patients in hospitals and caregiving facilities that need straws to comfortably consume beverages.
Initially, the ordinance would apply to restaurants and other businesses and organizations in Portland that provide straws to customers and employees. How and when a change would occur will be determined in the development of the ordinance.
Frequently asked questions
What is the plastic straw strategy about?
The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability staff have been asked by Portland City Council to develop a strategy to reduce single-use plastics with an emphasis on plastic straws.
Who is developing the new policy?
Staff from the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) will incorporate elements of the lessons learned by other cities into the development of the ordinance.
Why Portland needs to reduce single-use plastics for food and beverage?
All types of plastic, including compostable or biodegradable plastic do not biodegrade in marine environments, but instead break down into smaller pieces that enter the marine food chain.
Americans use 500 million plastics straws every day, according to the National Park Service. In response to ocean plastics and litter, over 100 municipalities worldwide are banning or charging for plastic bags and promoting the use of reusable bags. Cities around the world such as New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Berkeley, Boulder and Vancouver, British Columbia already have or are in the process of restricting straws and other single-use plastics.
Is reducing plastics straws the most important thing we can do to reduce plastic litter?
Plastic straws are the primary focus of this resolution, and a logical place to start, due to the number of straws used every day. Other types of single-use plastic are also pervasive litter in the marine and land areas, like utensils, cups and take-out containers. To date, Portland has already passed ordinances to restrict plastic bags and polystyrene to-go containers and cups. An ordinance to reduce plastic straws would be a part of the continuum of reducing on-the-go impacts.
The best option is to be thoughtful about when we choose to use disposable cups, straws and utensils and by using reusable whenever we can.
The City of Portland programs, including Resourceful PDX promote waste reduction and reuse. For more information about how to reduce plastics, visit the Resourceful PDX website: www.resourcefulpdx.com
What about the need for plastic straws in healthcare situations?
Vancouver, British Columbia has learned through the adoption of similar policies that include special consideration to hospitals and caregiving organizations that provide service to people that require the use of a plastic straw due to a medical condition. The City of Portland will work with the healthcare community to understand these needs and consider those needs when developing the policy. BPS staff will incorporate public feedback – especially from people with disabilities and patients in medical facilities that need straws to consume beverages.
When will City Council vote on a reducing single-use disposable plastics policy?
After spending several months talking with the Portland community, experts in the field and other cities, the Mayor and BPS plan to return to City Council in the fall of 2018 with a policy.
When will this new policy go into effect?
If passed by City Council, Mayor Wheeler and the Portland City Council will decide the ordinance effective date for implementation. Potential policy implementation timelines will be discussed with the Single-use Plastic Reduction Work Group for consideration.