Effective Jan. 1, 2020, single-use plastic bags will no longer be an option for retailers and restaurants in the state of Oregon.
During the last legislative session, the Oregon Legislature passed the “Sustainable Shopping Initiative” banning single use plastic bags by retail outlets and restaurants. This new law was supported by Oregon senators, representatives, Tillamook County Commissioners, Safeway, and Fred Meyer, as well as other local small businesses and restaurants in Tillamook County.
“This is a very important step and I’m glad the state is taking this action,” said David McCall, from the Master Recyclers in Tillamook.
In April, Tillamook County Commissioners passed a resolution noting, “Plastic waste degrades into smaller and smaller micro-particles that carry chemical toxins, much of which finds its way into the ocean. Eight million tons of plastic enter marine waters every year.”
According to McCall, plastic bags have a six to 12-minute life span and create lots of problems. Banning bags is an important active step.
Included in the ban are single use check out bags at grocery and other retail stores, including farmers markets, and single use carry out bags at restaurants.
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 cleanings; bags sold in packages containing multiple bags for food storage, garbage, or pet waste.
To encourage using reusable bags, the new law requires that retail businesses and restaurants charge a five-cent fee for paper bags made from at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled paper, and durable plastic or fabric reusable bags. The reasons for the fees are to offset the cost of paper, which are more expensive than the plastic carryout bags, and because the goal is not to increase the use of paper bags but to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags.
“I hope citizens will realize that they can use reusable shopping bags,” McCall said.
According to the Oregon Public Health Authority, plastic absorbs dangerous toxins from the environment. Wildlife mistakes plastic for food and eats it. Studies have shown that wildlife can’t digest plastics, and that toxins from plastics are absorbed into animal and marine wildlife tissues.
“When fish and other animals mistake the plastic as food – and they frequently do – the toxic chemicals work their way up the food chain,” read a statement from the Surfrider Foundation. “This is not only potentially devastating to fish and wildlife, but to human health too.”
According to an article from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), data from various communities shows that a fee will lead many consumers to reduce their use of new bags. DEQ states that a fee (if equal to the cost of the bag) is fair to all consumers – only those consumers who choose to use new bags pay for them, rather than forcing all consumers (including those who choose to reuse) to pay for new bags.
City Sanitary Service reported that 479 people were surveyed in September of 2018. Responding to the question of support for a ban, 74 percent approved, 19 percent opposed, and 7 percent said maybe. On the question of using paper and reusable bags in lieu of plastics, 83 percent said yes, 8 percent said no, and 9 percent said maybe.
Asked by City Sanitary Service if people were willing to pay for a paper bag, 45 percent said no, 35 percent were willing to pay 5 cents, and 20 percent were willing to pay a dime. On the question of reusable bags, 53 percent said they bring reusable bags to the store most of the time (at least 75 percent of shopping trips), while 47 percent said they do not.
McCall said we underestimate the way people can change their habits and react. He believes Tillamook County will adjust to the ban. Master Recyclers will also engage with people about the ban.