styrofoam container

(Robert Geiger/Flickr)

Eugene made a major stride forward in environmentalism last week when the City Council voted in favor of a ban on single-use polystyrene takeout food containers and plastic bags at restaurants.

The Council passed both ordinances unanimously at the Nov. 25 meeting, after a show of public support at a Nov. 18 open hearing. As identified in an agenda describing the ordinance, the environmental issue with polystyrene containers is that they are not biodegradable, and they are difficult to recycle.

The polystyrene container ban, which includes items colloquially known as styrofoam, draws its inspiration from an attempt made during the 2019 Oregon legislative session to prohibit polystyrene restaurant items statewide. That bill, which would have made Oregon the first western state to ban those items, ultimately failed by one vote. Maine had passed a similar statewide ban in 2019. 

Related: Oregon legislature and OSPIRG take on single-use styrofoam

Several other cities in Oregon, including Portland, Florence and Ashland, have already enacted polystyrene food container bans, and Eugene has already passed an ordinance limiting how accessible single-use plastic utensils are to customers. However, Elizabeth Radcliffe, state board chair for public interest group OSPIRG Students, said that having a ban in Eugene could lead to a trend across the state.

“We think it's going to be really good momentum for a statewide bill, we're hoping that when it comes back in the next long legislative session, it will pass,” said Radcliffe.

Radcliffe said that OSPIRG has worked in support of this ban since winter term of the last academic year, and during that time, they have interacted with the City Council over the ban a number of times, including meeting with individual councilors and speaking before council meetings.

Abby Keep, Wildlife over Waste coordinator for OSPIRG, said that the effort to try to pass a plastic ban has been part of the group's “Wildlife over Waste” campaign, which deals with reducing plastic waste.

“Before we even really talked to City Council, we focused on getting a lot of support on campus,” said Keep. “We ended up collecting about 1,300 petitions from students, we got 50 businesses in the Eugene area to sign a resolution saying their business would not be adversely affected by a styrofoam ban, and we got 38 professors at UO to sign a letter saying polystyrene is bad for the environment.” Keep also said that the student government at the University of Oregon and Lane County Community College passed resolutions in favor of the ban.

The plastic bag ban follows similar occurrences in the recent past as well. “Just to be clear, this does put us in compliance with state law,” said councilor Alan Zelenka during the meeting, “and what it does is include restaurants from using plastic bags.” 

A comprehensive plastic bag ban was passed by the Oregon state legislature in June of 2019. However, Zelenka noted that the ban in Eugene would really only be affecting single-use dining bags, and not those used for services like commercial packaging.

The ordinances will be set to take effect in 2020.