I distinctly remember when plastic bags were introduced in Oregon grocery stores.
I was six or seven years old and I remember my parents and all of my friends' parents being appalled. In fact, I remember my Mom declaring that we would never use plastic bags because those paper bags were made here in Oregon from trees cut here in Oregon. For years, I stood by that parental directive until it became too much of a hassle, with plastic bags set up to be used as quickly as possible. In fact, the public reaction to plastic bags was so negative back then that a law was passed requiring Oregon grocery stores to offer paper bags. Last week, State Representative Brian Clem, reminded me that that anti-plastic bag sentiment still exists to some degree in towns like Coos Bay, where he grew up, that still depend on jobs in Oregon's forests.
Fast forward from the early eighties, when plastic bags were seen as an afront to Oregon's timber and paper industries, to today. The reality is that we were right. Plastic bags have been and remain terrible for Oregon's economy. Forget the fact that plastic bags litter our streets, pollute our oceans and rivers, clog our sewers, break machinery and pile up in landfills where they exist forever. Forget all that for now. The fact is that paper and reusable bags are manufactured in Oregon by companies that employ thousands of Oregonians. Plastic bags are not.
Companies like Package Containers Inc in Canby, which employs 55 people and manufacters paper and reusable shopping bags. Package Containers Inc. was named the 2010 Small Manufacturer of the Year by the Portland Business Journal. Trusted Oregon grocers like Fred Meyer and New Seasons voluntarily stopped offering plastic bags as part of their commitment to sustainable business. And the Northwest Grocery Association and Oregon United Food and Commerical Workers Local 555 agree that banning plastic bags, offering paper and accelerating the switch to reusable bags is good for Oregon business. It also goes without saying that banning single use plastic bags is vital for protecting Oregon's natural legacy.
Senate Bill 536 will finally do what we all know should have been done back in the eighties and ban plastic bags. Fittingly, it has bi-partisan co-sponsors from across Oregon in Republican Senator Jason Atkinson, Democratic Senator Mark Hass, Republican Representative Vic Gilliam and Democratic Representative Ben Cannon. All four deserve great praise for their leadership working to finally solve the plastic bag problem.
Over the past week, we've been subjected to an onslaught of dubious claims about plastic bags -all coming from Hilex Poly out of South Carolina, one of the largest plastic bag companies in the nation. Hilex doesn't employ anyone in Oregon except the lobbyists they've hired to kill SB 536. According to Hilex we don't really see all those plastic bags laying around on the streets and floating in the river.
And those paper bags made here in Oregon? Acoording to Hilex they are just terrible for the environment. Since they are from South Carolina they probably don't know that Oregon has one of the best recycling systems in the world. According to International Paper, which employs about 900 Oregonians, approximately 60% of paper bags are recycled. And despite Hilex pushing the red herring of plastic bag recycling, the reality is that only 1% of plastic bags are reycycled.
And the "grassroots campaign" against the bag ban? Well, of course it's bought and paid for by Hilex. Heck, even the "grassroots" website is run by a "grassroots" political consulting oufit from Washington, DC. The Medford Mail tribune got it right in a great editorial last week - "Oregonians should take their talking points with a bagful of salt."
Let's listen to Oregon employers, Oregon manufacturers, Oregon grassroots organizations, pass SB 536 and ban single use plastic bags once and for all. The Medford Mail Tribune put it best, "This state has a tradition of leading the country in environmentally friendly laws, from bike paths to returnable bottles. Oregonians should add eliminating plastic grocery bags to that list."
Update: I forgot to mention that SB 536 also has the support of the Oregon Business Association.