White Salmon students and community members are using creativity, donated materials and environmental education, to encourage White Salmon to ban the sale of single use plastic bags.

It began with a Columbia Gorge Women’s Action Network (CGWAN) committee formed to present a local plastic use ordinance to the White Salmon City Council.

CGWAN members, along with interested non-members, decided to take positive action around a possible local ordinance if the current Senate Bill 5323, statewide single-use plastic bag ban, does not pass.

“Similar bills have failed repeatedly so we wanted to be proactive and ready for action should it fail again,” said committee member Becky Miles.

Senate Bill 5323 has made it much further through the process on this latest go around, although it has been watered down considerably along the journey. The bill is currently in committee in the House.

According to a summary of SB 5323 on the Washington State Legislature website: “SB 5323 Prohibits a retail establishment from providing to a customer or a person at an event a single-use plastic carryout bag; or a paper carryout bag or reusable carryout bag made of film plastic that does not meet recycled content requirements. This bill also prohibits using or providing certain polyethylene or other non-compostable plastic bags. “

This bill authorizes a retail establishment to provide a reusable carryout bag or a recycled content paper carryout bag of any size to a customer at the point of sale and requires a retail establishment to collect a pass-through charge of no less than 10 cents for every recycled content paper carryout bag or reusable carryout bag made of film plastic it provides.

This bill also prohibits a city, town, county, or municipal corporation from implementing a local carryout bag ordinance. Provides that this act is null and void if appropriations are not approved.”

Basically, if this bill is passed by the state, it will render the petition to ban plastic bags in White Salmon presented by CGWAN null and void.

During the long wait for the state bill to pass or fail, CGWAN decided to move forward with the educational aspect of the plastic bag ban, led by local artist Pam Springer of Arts and Education of The Columbia Gorge. 

You may remember a photo in the March 7 issue of The Enterprise that featured fourth-graders from Wallace and Priscilla Stevenson Intermediate School. The students gave a presentation to the White Salmon Valley School Board regarding plastic pollution. Additionally, the students spoke about projects they have been working on to address plastic pollution; one of them is making reusable bags from old windsurfing and sailboat sails.

The project idea has since spread to all four schools in the White Salmon Valley School District.

In addition to participating in the sewing workshops, high school students are designing a logo for the bags which will be stamped “Green Bag” in memory of Lyle resident Laura Green, who was not only an avid windsurfer but a champion of the environment. Green passed away after a windsurfing accident on Dec. 6.

The materials used for the reusable bags, donated by community members, range from windsurfing sails to old camping tents. The largest donation came from Bart Vervolet of Columbia Gorge Water Sports, he donated multiple sailboat and windsurfing sails.

Springer was able to secure a $280 grant from the White Salmon PTO to tune up the school sewing machines.

Springer and other volunteers have hosted sewing workshops over the last few weeks and will be holding more in May, and potentially throughout the summer. Gorge Makerspace director Jack Perrin has offered his space at the Makerspace workshop for summer sewing events.

“Many teachers are very excited about the project,” said Miles.

Not only will this further the student’s education on the environment, but also provides an opportunity for them to learn new skills, such as sewing and public speaking.

Back in February, the CGWAN plastic bag ban committee canvased White Salmon and Bingen merchants who are overwhelmingly supportive of a local single-use plastic bag ban. Many have already stopped using take-out plastic bags and food containers. 

Jeff O’Neal, the owner of White Salmon Harvest Market, is one of the merchants CGWAN spoke to. He has offered to sell the reusable bags made by the students at Harvest Market, with 100 % of the proceeds going back to the schools to further encourage re-use and waste reduction education.   

Harvest Market is also working with its own bag suppliers to reduce / remove the usage of single use plastic bags at the customers point of purchase.  

“We are looking at several options including promoting the use of reusable plastic bags and expanding our offering of reusable washable bags,” said O’Neal.

Students and members of CGWAN will be speaking to the White Salmon City Council at its April 17 meeting, requesting its support for a plastic bag ban.

“Our goal is ultimately to continue local re-use and waste reduction education in the schools and the community on an on-going basis,” said Miles. 

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