Adams Proposes Ban on Single-Use Plastic Check-Out Bags

Evan Manvel

As promised, Portland Mayor Sam Adams is bringing forward a resolution to prohibit large grocery stores from distributing single-use plastic check-out bags.

The emergency ordinance, which could be voted on next Thursday, comes on the heels of the legislature's failure to pass a ban. Portland had held off taking action, giving the legislature a chance to craft a solution.

If the ban passes, Portland would join several other places with plastic bag bans, from San Francisco to Delhi, Mexico City to Rwanda, Coastal North Carolina to Bellingham, Maui to South Africa.

It's significant news - the Washington Post online has published an AP squib. Yet it also is simply reinforcing a businesses decision many stores have already made; Fred Meyer has already removed plastic check-out bags from ten stores.

And what of the opposition? Plastic bag manufacturer Hilex Poly makes the poll-tested yet specious case that they're pushing recycling. If they're pushing recycling, they're doing a heckuva job. In fact, less than 5% of plastic bags are recycled each year.

Furthermore, the contamination from plastic bags harms recycling, costing paper recyclers serious money - in the video above, Mayor Adams notes Far West Fibers spends $30,000 to $40,000 a month just to remove plastic bags from their recycling machinery.

Come October 15th, Portlanders should expect plastic check-out bags to be a thing of the past. And reusable bags should be continuing their resurgence as simply part of the shopping routine.

More from the Mayor.

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    And yet, ironically, there will still be thousands of plastic bags on rolls in the produce section for people to use, and there will still be all sorts of plastic bags to buy in the packaging and wrapping section of the store.

    While I can understand where Sam's coming from on this, what he and the city council are doing is focusing on the obvious 10% (the shopping bag everyone sees) while ignoring the all of the rest of the plastic bags used in stores.

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    I was thinking more of my useage of plastic bags at the store. If I buy produce or meats at the store, I put everything in a plastic bag. carrots, green onions, chicken, turkey, fruits, and any bulk items. All of those bags go in the carry out bag. So if I'm buying meat, produce, or bulk items, I use many more plastic bags than the one or two carry out bags those are placed in.

    Also, when I package produce from my farm, everything goes in a plastic bag.

    So if the concern is about plastic bags, the city would be better off to ban all of those single use plastic bags rather than the single use carry out bags.

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      Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good. Starting with the 444 checkout bags per man, woman and child is pretty darn good.

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      i throw everything loose into my cloth bag or bike bag: fruit, veg, meat, bulk goods - all of it. i have yet to get sick or make anyone sick. i've been doing this for years. no extra plastic bags, just dump it all in. i then put stuff away at home, cook food properly & don't sweat it. it works. if the meat package is leaking - i don't buy it. easy-peasy. plastic bags are not needed for safety & i'm pretty sure don't help very much anyway.

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    @Joanne: of course the thing to do is bring your own reusable bags and containers for everything that you buy.

    In the meanwhile, as we get on with the vital work of trying to eliminate the non-biodegradable, centuries(millennia?)-persistent plastics from the environment, banning the checkout bags is certainly a very constructive first step.

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    By Joanne's logic, we shouldn't bother with hybrid cars - because the better solution would just be to go all-electric straight away.


    Joanne, the idea is to make the transition slowly. There are political reasons to do that, and policy reasons to do that, health reasons to do that, economic reasons to do that...

    That said, as I alluded to up above, the pollution problem really is about the disposable checkout bags -- not the produce bags. (Why? Because produce bags tend to wind up in the fridge, and then in the garbage. Which is sub-optimal, to be sure, but better than checkout bags which often end up dropped on the street.)

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    Now if we could just ban helium balloons.

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    As a Vancouverite, I make it a point to stay out of Oregon politics, but if Portland adopts a "no bag" policy, I hope the ordinance includes a requirement that bold warning signs be posted at the entrance of each store in Portland. I am a weekly customer of the Rose Lodge New Seasons, and it would be a major pain to have my typical 51 items in my shopping cart and be told that I can't go through the checkout line because I forgot to bring a bag from home.

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    I wish Mayor Adams would focus more on job creation, economic development and utilities cost before he worries about plastic bags. I bring my reusable shopping bags everywhere. If we want people to use reusable bags we should start programs to encourage it rather than taking away the plastic option. I know many people who will just go to multiple paper bags, which isn't much better. There are also a number of people, including family members of mine, who use the plastic bags from grocery stores as trash bag liners to save money. A low-income persons solution to help save money. It seems like a plastic bag ban addresses an issue, but doesn't solve any of the real problems.

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      had Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna not conspired with Hilex Poly to stop the state bill, more jobs would have been created in Oregon. the bags used at checkout are not made in Oregon; Hilex Poly, the major bag manufacturer behind stopping the bill, is from SC & their plant is in TX. paper bags, otoh, are made in Oregon. by Oregon workers. so this is, to that extent, a bill that helps Oregon jobs.

      not to mention, there's a big opening here for Oregonians to make non-plastic reusable bags.

      and just because we need jobs doesn't mean we don't deal with this. it's not an either-or; that's defeatist thinking that begins with the belief that humans can't work on multiple issues at the same time. i'm not sure you want to be asserting that.

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        We can have multiple things on the broiler plate, but we need to prioritize. For example, immigration would be a lot easier to deal with if we had full employment in this country. People wouldn't be blaming an 'other' group for stealing their jobs (which isn't true). Our failure to prioritize issues ensures we get a lot of nothing done.

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          I tend to agree. But this is going to take about 20 minutes of the city council's time -- just bring up the bill written a few years ago, vote, gavel-gavel, and it's law.

          And besides, as TA noted, this really is about Oregon jobs. (An argument passionately made by Rep. Brian Clem - who grew up in Coos Bay in the 1980s where, he remembers, it was considered a moral crime to use a plastic bag instead of a paper bag that came from the local mill.)

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          There's a thoughtful This American Life episode about how much elected officials can actually affect job creation.

          That said, Adams has definitely put a lot more effort into economic development than the plastic bags issue.

          I think the eco devo stuff is more obscure and complicated, and harder to make a news story out of. Mayor Adams summarizes his work in the 2011 State of the City, including highlighting the recruitment of Vestas Wind, ReVolt batteries for electric cars, and NEXion renewable energy to Portland, as well as his structural and staffing changes to try to strengthen Portland's economy.

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    And, let's not forget that kraft paper grocery bags are (a) reusable multiple times (as many as 50 with considerable care), (b) easily recyclable in curbside recycling bins (they're the same material as corrugated cardboard), and probably most importantly, (c) completely biodegradable and compostable, even in a "cool" home compost bin. And, even though they do require natural fiber to make (not necessarily but usually trees), they are made from a renewable resource, unlike plastic bags which are made of oil or natural gas which are not renewable and in increasingly short supply.


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