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Oregon considering ban on plastic shopping bags

GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Oregon lawmakers will consider whether the state should become the first to pass a ban on plastic bags, a measure recycling advocates believe would trigger a domino effect among other states.

A bill co-sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats would outlaw throwaway plastic check-out bags at all retail stores in Oregon. Shoppers would be forced to bring their own bag or pay a nickel apiece for recycled paper bags.

A hearing is set for Tuesday in Salem on the proposed ban, which is supported by the Northwest Grocers Association and one of the state’s biggest bag users: Fred Meyer stores.

A number of supporters, who expect a fight with the chemical industry, are framing the debate as a jobs issue.

“There are over 2,000 Oregonians employed in the paper bag manufacturing industry,” said Jon Isaacs, executive director of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. “Not one single plastic bag is produced here.”

The grocer and general merchandise retailer Fred Meyer has already stopped handing out plastic bags at 10 stores around Portland to jump-start the transition.

“We see this train has left the station,” Fred Meyer spokeswoman Melinda Merrill said from Portland.

A telephone survey of 600 moderate voters last June found 77 percent favoring a ban, Isaacs said.

The bill would prohibit single-use plastic checkout bags at all retail stores. Retailers would have to charge 5 cents apiece for recycled paper bags, but be able to keep the money.

That will drive up costs for retailers, who pay less than a penny apiece for plastic bags and 5 cents or more for paper bags, Merrill said. But it is preferable to having to meet different standards as cities and counties adopt their own measures.

In Portland, Fred Meyer shoppers have switched overwhelmingly to paper bags, which are still free, rather than bringing their own, Merrill said.

San Francisco adopted the nation’s first citywide ban in 2007, and localities from Hawaii to Washington, D.C., have imposed controls.

San Francisco found its ban covering large grocery and drug stores has reduced litter and down time on recycling sorting machines jammed with plastic bags, with virtually no complaints from the public, said Mark Westlund, spokesman for the city’s Department of the Environment.

California’s Legislature defeated a statewide ban last fall under intense lobbying from the chemical industry, which argued that it would cost jobs by shutting down plastic bag manufacturers in the state.

Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, the bill’s co-sponsor, said only 4 percent of the 1.7 billion plastic bags used each year in Oregon get recycled, leaving the rest to go into landfills, the wrong recycling bins and the landscape.


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