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Backers of Plastic Bag Ban Seek Support from Cities

Eugene is among individual cities that OSPIRG hopes will enact a ban after a statewide proposal failed
Matt Cooper

The Legislature sacked a proposal for a statewide ban on flimsy plastic bags this year.

So now, proponents are pursuing a bag ban in individual cities, and they’ve added Eugene to the list, hoping for a favorable response from the City Council.

“I think it’s high time we have the discussion,” Mayor Kitty Piercy said.

Oregonians use 1.7 billion plastic bags per year. That’s about 400 per person; many of the bags, once discarded, flutter away from landfills and end up in the Pacific Ocean, littering beaches and killing sea turtles and marine animals, said the consumer advocacy group Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, or OSPIRG.

Most legislators agree that plastic-bag pollution is a serious problem. But a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags died in June with the defeat of Senate Bill 536, after one of the highest-profile and hardest-fought environmental debates of the legislative session.

The University of Oregon chapter of OSPIRG said that with the bill’s defeat, the group is raising awareness and building support for a city measure, hoping the City Council will take the matter up, said Charles Denson, chapter chairman.

“Right now the main focus of our campaign is public education,” he said. “It will be up to the city to decide where to take it from there.”

The group recently held an event at the UO in which a “Plastic Bag Monster” did battle with the Duck, to the cheers and jeers of students. The organization gathered petitions to present to the city in favor of banning plastic bags, Denson said.

Portland adopted a ban Oct. 15 that prohibits plastic shopping bags at checkstands of major grocers such as Safeway and Albertsons and big retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens and Rite Aid that have pharmacies, the city said.

Some bag-ban proponents say city bans could create a patchwork of different rules and make it difficult to win a statewide ban later. But Denson hopes local efforts lead to a statewide solution.

“If it’s already taken effect in the major cities across the state, then there’s less of a reason to not do it on the statewide level,” he said.

The city of Eugene supported the statewide bag-ban effort and some councilors have expressed interest in this issue, Piercy said.

Local businesses are encouraging the use of cloth shopping bags, Piercy said, adding that she’s expecting the issue to come before the council “sometime in the near future.”

“I think we’re all aware that plastic bags have been a problem in our local landfill and have done significant harm to wildlife in our ocean,” Piercy said. “There is an economic impact.”

Supporters of bag bans say recycling them is not a solution because it’s not practical to get Oregonians to collect and turn in plastic bags. But the collection approach is favored by some, including the plastics industry.

Anna Richter Taylor, a spokeswoman for Hilex Poly, the South Carolina-based plastic bag manufacturing giant and the most visible opponent of the statewide bill, said it’s too soon to say whether the company will fight local efforts.

“Our focus remains on working collaboratively with recycling stakeholders to focus on recycling solutions not only of plastic bags but other plastic films and wraps,” she said.

Related Chapter

University of Oregon