Activism in Action | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Activism in Action

The enthusiasm of youth meets the skepticism of state government... and makes progress

Last week's Source food column, "Little Bites," outlined how a bill is moving through the state legislature that would allow restaurants and food service establishments to serve customers food in their own containers. SB 545 is part of an overall "zero waste" effort, this one aimed at reducing how much plastic Oregonians consume.

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Stopping the growth of the great Pacific garbage patch is certainly a worthwhile endeavor in our minds, but the issue has some other local significance. Our own Deschutes County landfill is nearing the end of its life, and a battle is brewing over where the next landfill will go. No one wants a landfill in their backyard, yet each of us adds to it, every single day, to the tune of about 3,000 pounds per person every year.

These are real problems that some of the most mature among us don't even want to confront – and yet, in our community, it's encouraging to find a group of youth who DO want to do something about it. At Cascades Academy, middle school science and health teacher Anne-Marie Eklund helped her students organize their own chapter of "Beyond Plastics" — a national project launched in 2019 that aims to end plastic pollution. Student groups often take part in these efforts as a way to engage in the world around them. Sometimes, these groups even manage to take real action in their own communities – and that's exactly what this group did.

The student group reached out to the state senator who represents Bend, Sen. Tim Knopp, and asked him to support the bill. And he did, despite the fact it wasn't popular with his party. The "nay" votes on the bill, eight of them, were all by his fellow Senate Republicans.

SB 545 passed the Oregon Senate with a healthy margin. It's likely that the advocacy by the student group moved Knopp from initially being in the "skeptical" camp to the "yes" camp. The Oregon House still needs to pass it to make it a reality, but it's on its way.

After we published the story about the passage of SB 545 in the Oregon Senate, some community members expressed the feeling that the effort is a waste of time – that state governments shouldn't focus on what they perceive as a social issue that has little impact on our lives. But it does. Three thousand pounds of it, in fact – and the bill for disposing of that waste is about to come due.

With a dose of luck and a measure of perseverance on the behalf of kids like the ones at Cascades Academy, we may not have to fill the next landfill quite as quickly.

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