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Jumping On the Bagwagon

In the ongoing debate over whether people are smart enough to learn to use reusable bags, the Eugene City Council will continue exploring a ban on single-use plastic bags in grocery stores at a public hearing Sept. 17.

If this sounds familiar, Eugene postponed past discussions of a bag ban to see if a 2011 statewide ban would pass. It didn’t, and in the meantime individual cities including Portland and Corvallis have implemented local bans.

Oregonians use approximately 1.7 billion single-use plastic bags per year, which is about 500 per person per year, according to Environment Oregon’s Sarah Higginbotham. “Eugene would be a leader to a statewide ban and remind people this is a smart, easy solution that helps the environment as well as cutting unnecessary costs to those already using reusable bags,” she says.

There is a difference between a tax and a fee: One is avoidable and the other is not, according to City Councilor Alan Zelenka, and that’s why in a 7-1 vote council chose to move forward with the fee option, though that could change after the Sept. 17 public hearing. “The 5-cent fee is necessary for two reasons,” Zelenka says, “to avoid cost burden on businesses and give people incentive to bring reusable bags.” 

If the ordinance makes it past the public hearing and into city code, stores will have six months to a year to comply. The Northwest Grocery Association has supported other cities’ bans as well as the statewide effort because of the extra burden that recycling plastic bags places on grocery stores and recycling centers, where plastic bags cause machinery problems.

The goal of this ban is an increase in reusable bags, not an increase in paper bags, according to Zelenka. “Grocers are committed to work on this community effort by giving away thousands of reusable bags in order to get this done,” he says.