Students walking into the Campus Center on Jan. 22 may have been greeted by what appeared to be a monster composed of plastic grocery bags.
That “monster” was Lexi McAllister, one of the two Oregon State University-Cascades students creating a petition for the Bend City Council to ban the use of plastic grocery bags in Bend.
McAllister and Victoria Fischella, her partner in the campaign, have been working on their environmental project since Dec. 2012. Both of the sustainability majors were in a class taught by Kreg Lindberg, a tourism and outdoor leadership professor at OSU-Cascades, which got them thinking about the waste produced by plastic bags.
“[The plastic bag issue] was more on our mind after that class,” said McAllister.
After seeing their interest in the topic, Lindberg recommended several documentaries regarding the harm plastic bags pose to the environment, according to Fischella and McAllister. Among the documentaries Fischella and McAllister watched was Bag It, which they said was particularly eye opening.
“We said ‘ that’s it, [plastic bags] need to be banned,’” said Fischella. “The bags are so detrimental to the marine life and environment…I don’t think many people even realize it.”
The next step for Fischella and McAllister was to localize the problem. They went to the Knott Landfill in Bend. Both women said they were stunned by what they saw there.
“There were so many plastic bags,” said Fischella.”It was extremely eye opening.”
After visiting the landfill, much of their time was spent doing research and determining how much work inciting a plastic bag ban would be, according to McAllister. They made several community partnerships with organizations including the Surfrider Foundation, Environment Oregon and the Sierra Club.
“Once we got a solid foundation we hit the ground running,” said Fischella.
To spread awareness for their cause, Fischella and McAllister hosted a screening of Bag It, the same documentary that inspired them, at the Environmental Center in Bend. They are continuing to try to raise awareness and gain community support by handing out their petition and illustrating the issue of plastic build up with the plastic bag suit.
Fischella and McAllister said their goal is to ban plastic bags in Bend grocery stores, but they believe their efforts will have a further reach than the Bend community.
“Our work here is helping promote the statewide ban,” said McAllister. “The legislature meets in February [to discuss the banning of plastic bags] so we want to put pressure on Bend to start the process now.”
Some Bend grocery stores, including Ray’s Food Place and Newport Market, have already eliminated the use of plastic bags. McAllister said she hopes they will set a good example for other Bend businesses. If all grocery stores discontinued plastic bags, there would be no risk of losing customers who didn’t agree with the ban, according to McAllister, because all stores would be on an “equal playing field.”
McAllister urged those who disagree with the plastic bag ban to do more research.
“People may want the choice of having a plastic bag or not,” said McAllister. “But I don’t think they realize how detrimental those bags are to the environment and our health.”