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Oregon lawmakers consider banning Styrofoam to-go boxes and allowing customers to bring their own containers

Both bills have passed the senate with bipartisan support.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Would you like that to go?

In Oregon, two bills could soon play into that question for people dining out. Under Senate Bill 543, lawmakers are considering banning Styrofoam to-go containers in Oregon as well as so-called “forever chemicals” known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

“Polystyrene is a threat to the health of our communities and our land,” said bill sponsor Senator Janeen Sollman (D-Hillsboro). “This is a step towards a more sustainable and mindful approach to consumption and a commitment to preserving the health, beauty and diversity of Oregon for generations to come.”

On Monday, SB 543 sailed through the Senate with bipartisan support. Customers outside food carts on Southwest Fourth Avenue said the effort feels like a positive move for Oregon.

“[Styrofoam] takes a long time to break down and causes ocean pollution and things like that,” said Isabel Haglund.

Others noted how common Styrofoam still appears to be, even in Portland.

“I do GrubHub and Doordash and when I do it I see tons of Styrofoam,” said Austin Aguon. “I see Styrofoam all over the streets.”

SB 543 heads to the Oregon House on Tuesday for its first reading.

But what if when dining out, we could do away with the need for single use take-home containers altogether? Senate Bill 545 is trying to muzzle doggy bags by letting customers bring their own containers. The bill would direct the Oregon Health Authority to adopt rules giving diners the option of using their own containers to fill with fresh food to go, or leftovers. It also passed the Senate with bipartisan support, despite mixed feelings from consumers.

“It would enforce that ‘Reduce, reuse recycle’ when you're using your own materials,” said Haglund, who supports the idea.

For others, the concept raises concerns around sanitation.

“I don't know how we're going to be able to hand over our dishes and everything to somebody who's going to put food in it,” said food cart customer Carl Sgambelluri. “We're not going to be able to trust how sanitary that is… I don't really think that's going to help keep COVID-19 down.”

At Los Tres Mosqueteros Burgers y Mas, the idea of customers bringing their own boxes also doesn't sit well.

“Totally disagree with that one,” said employee Enrique Gutierrez. “For us it's like, we're bringing in stuff from the outside into the kitchen which is not good.”

A public hearing for SB 545 is scheduled for Wednesday in front of the House Committee on Climate, Energy and Environment.

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