Julia Shumway

(Oregon Capital Chronicle) A pair of bills aimed at reducing the number of takeout containers thrown away in Oregon are headed to Gov. Tina Kotek.

The state House on Wednesday morning passed Senate Bill 543, which would ban Styrofoam and other polystyrene takeout containers, on a 40-18 vote. A few minutes later, Senate Bill 545, directing the Oregon Health Authority to craft rules for how customers can bring reusable containers for take-out or leftovers from restaurants, passed on a 39-17 vote.

Rep. Maxine Dexter, a Portland Democrat and supporter of the bills, described how she spent Saturday cleaning up litter as part of an Earth Day event.

“Whether along a river, a highway or our beautiful beaches, single-use plastics are the predominant waste we clean up,” Dexter said. “It’s everywhere, it’s ugly and it’s doing harm.”

The two new bills build on other recent laws intended to reduce plastic waste. Since Jan. 1, 2020, stores and restaurants have been barred from providing single-use plastic bags, instead providing paper bags or thicker reusable plastic bags at a cost of at least 5 cents per bag to customers who didn’t bring their own. A 2019 law forbade restaurants from handing out single-use plastic straws unless a customer requested one.

If signed by Kotek, SB 543 would take effect on Jan. 1, 2025. SB 545 would take effect immediately, but customers likely wouldn’t be able to start bringing their own containers to restaurants until mid-2024. The Oregon Health Authority would have until June 30, 2024 to create rules governing the types of containers that could be used  and how to keep them sanitary.

Both bills passed with bipartisan support in the House and Senate, but a handful of Republicans who voted against SB 545 described concerns about sanitation.

“As a person who’s hesitant to eat in restaurants in the first place because of contamination issues, this isn’t going to make it more likely,” siad Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford. “I’m not going to feel better about it.”