Law would target supermarkets
Mason Brock turns into a bag monster during a rally in support a ban on plastic grocery bags in front of City Hall. Photo by Drew Dakessian.
Portland is gearing up to join the ranks of other cities, like San Francisco, in banning plastic bags. Mayor Sam Adams has made good on a promise to draft up an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags from supermarkets, but even in a city that has prided itself on its green reputation the proposal still faces opposition and isn’t in the clear yet.
Last year, Seattle passed a 20-cent fee on plastic bags, but was shortly overturned by voters after significant push back from industry groups. In Oregon, similar efforts have also fallen flat. During the last Legislative session, Oregon lawmakers punted on a bill that would ban plastic bags state-wide.
Proponents of the ban say that plastic bags are seldom recycled, and create big messes after making their way into waterways. They also add to the country’s dependence on oil since it is a key ingredient in manufacturing them.
The ordinance would prohibit the provision of single-use plastic or non-recycled paper carryout bags at big grocery stores like Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Safeway and or large retailers with pharmacies; require the regulated stores to charge a minimum of 5 cents for recycled paper or compostable plastic bags, and provide reusable bags, at no cost, to seniors and low-income residents.
The ordinance will be voted on in August. If it passes, it would go into effect in January 2012, giving opponents of the ban ample to time to rally.
Adams announced his plans for the ordinance at a rally in front of City Hall last Wednesday and was joined by a crowd of supporters, including members of the Surfrider Foundation’s Oregon Chapter, which has launched a “Ban the Bag” campaign.
Opponents of the ban, like Keith Christman, managing director of the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division, called the Portland proposal a completely wrong approach.
“Banning plastic bags would cause a switch to paper bags, which have resulted in twice [the] greenhouse gas emissions, use twice as much energy to make, and produce 80 percent more waste,” he said.
In 2007 when San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban single-use plastic bags, citizens did switch to paper bags.
This does not mean that Christman would prefer that paper bags be banned instead.
“If you banned both [paper and plastic bags], you would still get rid of…the recycling infrastructure for other kinds of plastic bags and wraps,” he said
When asked if the American Chemistry Council supports reusable bags, Christman replied, “If you reuse something, you’re preventing the manufacture of something else for that purpose.”
Joe Gilliam, President of the Northwest Grocery Association, has a somewhat different outlook. He thinks that people should reuse bags or get a bag specifically for that purpose, and is quick to point out the torrid history of the bag ban.
“Seattle went down in flames, and that’s a pretty liberal city,” he said. “If we’re gonna do this, we think it should be [applied to] all retailers statewide.”
To prevent something similar happening in Portland, Gilliam said it should be applied to all retailers statewide.
“We’ve asked the mayor to consider setting his ordinance up in a way that allows the legislature to act next time,” said Gilliam. “We think it should be done statewide, so that there’s one set of rules.”
Unlike the American Chemistry Council, the Northwest Grocery Association takes issue not with the concept of the bag ban, but the method of implementation.
“We’ve asked the mayor to consider setting his ordinance up in a way that allows the legislature to act next time,” said Gilliam. “We think it should be done, statewide, so that there’s one set of rules.”
But Adams is charging ahead. A blog post from Adams’ website states,
“Portland and Oregon have always led the nation on smart environmental policy.”