Tillamook Recyclers Tackle Plastics Problem at Local Level

 Tillamook Master Recyclers volunteers work with  Neah-Kah-Nie 7th grade students.
Tillamook Master Recyclers volunteers work with Neah-Kah-Nie 7th grade students.

Plastics in the environment is a world wide problem, but there are actions that can be taken in local communities to reduce plastic waste in our oceans and alert people to this important conservation issue.  The Tillamook County Master Recyclers are doing just that.  They have taken up the challenge of banning single- use plastic bags in Tillamook County.  Oregon Shores strongly endorsers this effort.

The Tillamook County Master Recyclers are more than 20 people who have gone through a three-day training sponsored by the Tillamook County Department of Solid Waste, and have committed to at least 30 hours of volunteer time. The mission of the Tillamook Master Recyclers is to “educate our community on the environmental impacts of our daily decisions and to encourage people to rethink, reduce, repair, repurpose, and then recycle”.

As one of the group’s projects, the Master Recyclers have formed a Ban the Bag Team to advocate for ordinances that ban single-use plastic bags.  This requires that ordinances be passed by the city councils in the county’s six incorporated cities and by the Tillamook County Commission for the unincorporated areas.   Manzanita passed such an ordinance in 2017.   Bay City and Wheeler are expected to pass similar ordinances this month: Rockaway Beach's council will consider such an ordinance at its July meeting.

One of the Ban the Bag Team strategies is to conduct surveys of businesses in each community to inform the city councils about business attitudes towards a plastic bag ban in their communities.  Other strategies include doing an ongoing survey of residents at Farmer’s Markets and other events to gauge community support for the ban. The survey of over 200 residents indicates that 95% agree plastic bags pose and environmental threat and 83% support a ban.  City Council members have appreciated all this information. 

Another project is working with the Surfrider Foundation to promote their Ocean Friendly Restaurants program. Participating restaurants agree to various ways of reducing and eliminating plastic waste and are rewarded with recognition and encouragement to support these restaurants.

Eliminating single-use plastic bags is a small step we can take in local communities to reduce pollution and educate people about this issue. There has been a dramatic worldwide increase in the production of plastics, especially single-use plastic containers and bags, that has outstripped our ability to deal with this material. Plastics do not degrade for many years, or ever.  Increasingly, there is concern that plastics break down into smaller and smaller fragments (microplastics and nanoplastics) that are ingested by birds and fish.  And we are now suspecting that the chemicals added to plastics during manufacturing will poison our food stream.  Scientists predict that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.  Only 20% of plastics are recycled with much of the waste plastic finding its way into waterways and the ocean. 

The Tillamook Recyclers need volunteers to help them survey businesses about their attitudes towards a plastic bag ban, to survey residents at Farmer’s Markets, and to attend city council meetings.  If you would like to help with this effort contact Beverly Stein at [email protected].  If you would like to sign up for the next Tillamook County Master Recyclers training scheduled for the fall please contact Sue Owens at [email protected].  The scheduled dates are Thursday, Oct. 5, 1-5 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 6, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Saturday, Oct. 13, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.