Corvallis Plastic Bag Ban and the folks at Hilex Poly LLC

by Jen Matteis

We use plastic bags for everything under the sun, and — surprise — they’re everywhere. The average American uses 500 plastic grocery bags a year, for about 12 minutes each. Every one of these bags still exists in some form. The wind plucks them from landfills and carries them into our oceans, where they entangle and choke marine creatures, enter our food chain, and form immense garbage patches where plastic outnumbers plankton six to one. For these reasons and more, the Corvallis City Council is considering an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags and instituting a five-cent fee on paper bags to encourage a switch to reusable bags.

So who’s opposing this ban? Not most residents or local businesses. The group Bag It Corvallis, spearheaded by Debra Higbee-Sudyka, reports more than a thousand signatures of support from residents and fifty from downtown businesses.

Instead, the South Carolina-based plastic bag manufacturer Hilex Poly has sent representatives to testify before the City Council’s Administrative Services Committee, which is assessing the ordinance. This company denied widely accepted negative environmental effects of plastic bags in a lawsuit against reusable bag manufacturer ChicoBag. It improperly claimed a 12 percent rate for recycling plastic bags–the EPA’s most recent statistic is less than five percent. Those few bags that make it to the recycling plant jam the machinery repeatedly and cost taxpayers money, reported Allied Waste Services of Corvallis in a letter of support sent to Higbee-Sudyka.

Hilex Poly was also behind a recent study that tested for disease-causing bacteria in reusable bags. Consumer Reports responded that eating a bag of salad exposes you to more bacteria than if you licked the inside of the dirtiest bag in the study. Still, go to the company’s Bag the Ban website and you’ll be greeted by an ominous image of E. coli under the threatening text: “What’s lurking in your reusable bag?”

This is the company that testified last week before our City Councilors Joel Hirsch, Biff Traber, and Mark O’Brien on the Administrative Services Committee. Its representatives were openly encouraged to attend future meetings.

“Of the people on the City Council, the majority are receptive to the ban, it’s just a minority that are not, maybe two or three,” said Higbee-Sudyka. “There’s been a lot of agreement. I’m afraid that Hilex Poly is going to make it difficult.”

We know what the plastic industry wants: profit. The opinion of the residents and businesses of Corvallis matter more. The public can provide input at the committee’s meetings (for a schedule, visit www.ci.corvallis.or.us/council and click on “Sustainability” in the sidebar).

Plastic bag bans are spreading, and it’s making the plastic industry squirm. And to those who rely on plastic bags for picking up your doggie doo-doo, don’t worry–we’ll still have newspaper bags, bread bags, bulk-food bags, produce bags–or just stop by the coastline and pick up a few strays.

“We went to the beach a couple weeks ago and yeah… it’s there. You see it,” said Higbee-Sudyka. “It’s sad.”

Join Bag It Corvallis for a free screening of “Bag It,” a documentary addressing the environmental and human health effects of plastics, on Sunday, March 23 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Benton County Library.

For more information or to view the ordinance, email Debra Higbee-Sudyka at dwhigbe@juno.com or visit bagitcorvallis.blogspot.com.

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