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Two Oregon bills aimed at reducing plastic pollution head to Governor's desk

The Oregon state House passed two bills with bipartisan support today to address the growing environmental and public health impacts of single-use plastics. Both bills are the result of years of advocacy from Surfrider Foundation programs and campaigns aimed at reducing plastic pollution in Oregon. From the beaches all the way to the State Capitol Surfrider worked with a strong zero waste coalition to advance these bills which now head to Gov. Tina Kotek's desk for her signature.

Senate Bill 543, part of Surfrider’s Oregon Foam and Plastic-Free Foodware campaign, will phase out polystyrene foam foodware, packing peanuts and coolers and prohibit the use of PFAS, the toxic substances nicknamed "forever chemicals" because of their longevity, in food packaging starting January 1, 2025. The legislation passed the House by a vote of 40-18.

Polystyrene foam is a form of plastic made from fossil fuels and commonly used for food containers and packaging. People usually throw away this disposable packaging after a single use. It breaks up easily into smaller pieces that are hard to clean up, disperse rapidly because they are so lightweight, and can persist in the environment for centuries. Plastic foam is not accepted in curbside recycling and is one of the top items found polluting Oregon's beaches.

The bill also mandates the phasing out PFAS from food packaging. PFAS are a class of highly fluorinated toxic chemicals used in many food containers and packaging due to their oil-, stain- and water-repellent properties. PFAS accumulate in the environment and human bodies and are linked to cancer, high cholesterol, reproductive and thyroid problems and immune suppression.

Senate Bill 545, part of Surfrider’s Clean Up the Oregon Health Code campaign, instructs the Oregon Health Authority to update the state’s health code to make it easier for restaurants to provide reusable container options. This bill cleared the House by a vote of 39-17. On February 2, 2023 the Oregon Department of Agriculture officially adopted new rules enabling grocery stores, small co-ops and other retail establishments to offer sanitary reusable containers and refill systems. Senate Bill 545 directs the Oregon Health Authority to undergo similar rulemaking to allow Oregon restaurants, and their customers, to do the same.

Several legislators and advocates celebrated the passage of Senate Bill 543 and Senate Bill 545 as significant steps forward in reducing plastic pollution:

"Products that have a 'forever' impact on our planet, like polystyrene foam, which doesn't biodegrade, and PFAS forever chemicals that build up in our bodies and environment, should be eliminated," said Senator Janeen Sollman (SD-15). "As we move away from these wasteful and harmful plastic products, we should make it easier for Oregon businesses to offer reusable options to help make the zero waste future we are working to build a reality. I am thrilled to see both of these bills pass today and look forward to Governor Kotek signing them into law."

“It’s time to take out the single-use takeout! Senate Bill 543 and 545 aim to help Oregon improve on a one-way, throwaway food service economy. Businesses spend $24 billion a year on disposable food service items. As one of the top items we find on Oregon’s beaches and throughout the environment, millions more each year is spent cleaning this stuff up," said Charlie Plybon, Oregon Policy Manager with Surfrider Foundation.

"Our addiction to plastic is responsible for swirling, country-sized gyres of plastic waste in our oceans and overflowing landfills in the United States. This pollution is damaging ecosystems, endangering public health and worsening climate change." said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, Environment Oregon’s state director. "The two bills passed by the Oregon legislature today will help Oregon eliminate toxic and wasteful products, shift away from our throwaway culture and build a future where we produce less waste. Thanks to the Oregon legislature for passing these bills. We look forward to seeing them signed into law."

“Not only is styrene toxic for human and environmental health, but so is PFAS in foodware,” said Jamie Pang, Environmental Health Program Director at the Oregon Environmental Council. “PFAS has been found in the blood of nearly every American, including newborn babies. Phasing out PFAS in foodware is a common sense way to eliminate a significant source of exposure to cancer-causing and endocrine disrupting chemicals that pollute our bodies and waterways.”

The bills now head to Gov. Tina Kotek for her signature.

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