You’ve seen those plastic shopping bags riding our coastal breezes, aloft in the air, often floating down onto bushes and beaches.
Those bags could become a distant memory here. Now, you’ll need to remember to bring more than a shopping list when you head to the store.
The ubiquitous, thin, single-use plastic bags are banned altogether beginning Jan. 1 for use by retailers and restaurants throughout Oregon.
That’s when you must begin using your own shopping bags -- or pay a penalty of 5 cents or more for each 4-mil. reusable plastic bag or even a 40%-recycled paper bag.
And local governments can require an even higher bag fee.
Retail stores and restaurants may provide certain reusable bags for free to customers who use a WIC voucher or electronic benefits transfer card.
The bag fees are charged by businesses to offset their cost of providing paper bags, which are more expensive than the plastic carryout bags. The goal is to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags, and not to increase their use of paper bags.
The bag ban was enacted during the 2019 legislative session with passage of the Sustainable Shopping Initiative (HB 2509). Check-out bags at grocery and other retail stores -- including farmers markets –- as well as single-use carryout bags at restaurants are affected.
Grocers also must keep track and provide a report to the Department of Environmental Quality by September 2024 as to bag fees and customers’ use of recycled paper, reusable fabric and reusable plastic checkout bags.
Not included in the ban are bags provided for produce, nuts, grain, greeting cards and small hardware items; bags for unwrapped prepared food or bakery goods; bags containing frozen meat or fish, flowers or other items to address dampness or sanitation; bags for prescription drugs; bags for garments or dry cleaning; and bags sold in packages containing multiple bags for food storage, garbage or pet waste.
Reasons cited by advocates for the ban include:
- Lightweight plastic bags get wrapped around sorting machinery in recycling facilities and cause equipment jams, according to the Department of Environmental Quality. Clearing the machinery is a manual process that increases labor costs and the risk of injuries.
- Lightweight bags act like balloons, blowing out of garbage cans, trucks and landfills. The flyaway bags litter open spaces and clog storm drains, eventually ending up in rivers and oceans. The plastic breaks down into small, toxic pieces that end up being consumed by wildlife and aquatic animals.
- Petroleum-based plastic bags are made from resistant synthetic polymers that may take 1,000 years or more to degrade (if ever), according to greentumble.com. When they break down into microscopic pieces, the pieces get deposited in soil or waterways, then enter the food chain. Microplastics have been found in tap water, soft drinks and seafood.
- If you’ve participated in local beach cleanup events, you’ve seen the amount of plastic on our beaches. The largest mass of oceangoing plastic is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s roughly one-third the size of the U.S.
- Beyond being unsightly, the real problem is that animals ingest the undigestible plastic, taking up storage volume in the stomach and causing starvation in seabirds, whales and dolphins.
Reactions by consumers locally have been mixed. An informal poll on The Pilot’s website indicates 60% of respondents already are using their own bags or are ready to switch; 27% think the bag ban is going to be inconvenient; 13% are unaware of the ban.
Local stores are gearing up for the changes, with Fred Meyer currently stuffing flyers in its paper bags at most checkout stands. Grocery Outlet is selling canvas bags (as are most major grocers), plus paper and heavier plastic bags. McKay’s in Gold Beach already is using paper bags. A spokesperson at Ray’s Food Place in Gold Beach said, “It’s not a big deal. We’re ready to go.”
Oregon joins five other states that are banning plastic bags statewide: California (the first state with a ban, in 2016), New York (March 2020), Maine, Vermont and Connecticut.
Meanwhile, a variety of states have passed statewide ban preemptions … just the opposite of bag bans.