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Fifth graders to mayor: ban plastic bags

Hillside Elementary School teacher Michelle Harrison (left) and City Council member LaRae Mills listen as Katie Fuller, 10, gives Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey a report on the pollution caused by plastic bags and the plants that produce them. Harrison's fifth-grade class urged Bailey to ban plastic bags in the city. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Cottage Grove City Council member LaRae Mills hands out reusable canvas bags to fifth graders at Hillside Elementary School. Students want the city to ban plastic bags. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

SCHOOL DISTRICT 833 -- Paper or plastic? Some students at Hillside Elementary School say that shouldn’t even be a question.

Plastic bags clutter the landscape, swell landfills, foul waterways and threaten wildlife, and they’d like to see them banned in the city of Cottage Grove.

Mayor Myron Bailey met with the students in Michelle Harrison’s fifth grade class on Feb. 26. Some of them had written him letters urging him to ban the bags.

He and council member LaRae Mills discussed the practical aspects of a ban and possible solutions to the plastic pestilence.

The mayor assured them their voices had been heard. In response to the letters, one council member posted a poll on Facebook, asking residents to vote for or against a hypothetical ban.

When it comes to plastic bags and their effect on the environment, these young activists had clearly done their homework.

Some alluded to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a plastic island of trash that’s floating in the ocean between California and Hawaii. It  has grown to twice the size of Texas.

Katie Fuller, 10, said that 85 percent of the world’s sea turtles are injured or killed as the result of ingesting plastic bags.

Anthony Zaccardi, 11, said the one million plastic bags are used every minute.

Students brought up various options for dealing with the problem.

= Supermarkets should charge customers 75 cents for every plastic bag.

= Have a community cleanup day where volunteers pick up plastic bags and other litter.

= Also ban plastic straws and utensils. A number of cities across the country are considering it. Some restaurants in the Twin Cities have already discontinued the items.

Bailey told the audience to expect some opposition. Banning plastic bags could impose additional costs on some local businesses. And it would be a tough law to enforce, he added.

“If we saw you walking with a plastic bag, would we fine you? Arrest you? That’s not going to happen.”

Bailey and Mills handed out reusable canvas bags with the city logo

“I want to say kudos and thank you for bringing this to our attention, “Bailey said.

He invited the students to speak on the matter at the next City Council meeting. Fuller appeared to be considering it. She gave Bailey a report she wrote on the pollution caused in the manufacture of plastic bags.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while but never have actively done anything,” she said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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