Plastic Bag Ban

HB 2509, the Sustainable Shopping Initiative, preempted Lake Oswego's plastic bag ban. The state law requires all retailers, of any size, to charge for a paper or "reusable" plastic bag. Restaurants must charge for a "reusable" plastic bag, but can give out a paper bag for free.

In Lake Oswego, the Lake Oswego City Council has set the fee to remain at 10 cents for a bag.

Bag Types:

  • Single use plastic carryout bags that are given to you at the checkout
  • This does NOT INCLUDE:
    • A bag provided by a retail establishment at a time OTHER than time of checkout
    • Bulk bags for: fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, greeting cards, or small hardware items
    • Contain or wrap frozen food, meat, fish, flowers, plants, or other damp items
    • Contain prepared food or bakery goods
    • Pharmacy prescription bags
    • Dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags, door hanger bags, garment or laundry bags
    • Product bags (Ziplocs, poop bags, etc)

Pass Through Fee for Bags:

The fee is 10 cents for a paper bag or reusable plastic bag at all retailers, and just for reusable plastic bags at restaurants.

The purpose of the fee is to trigger behavior change. In cities where customers are not charged a bag fee, the number of people bringing reusable bags shopping with them remains low. We do not want to push consumers from one type of single use bag (plastic) to another (paper). The idea is to encourage people to bring reusable bags. In Portland, where no bag fee was implemented, the use of paper bags increased by 491%.

What is a "reusable" bag?

Under the state law, a "reusable" bag can be a paper bag with 40% or greater recycled content, or a plastic bag 4mils in thickness or greater, or a bag made out of a recycled fiber. Though the state law permits the thicker plastic bag, there is no way for a consumer to know if the plastic bag meets the thickness standard, and does very little to reduce plastic pollution. We encourage consumers to focus on bringing their own bags to the store, or using a paper bag instead.

Why are we doing this?

As many people are aware, plastic bags are in the top 5 items of collected marine debris. On Oregon coastal cleanups, plastic bags found on our public beaches can be traced back to Willamette Valley shops. They pose hazards to wildlife, and create litter alongside road, public spaces, and natural habitats.

What people do not know is that plastic bags are not recyclable. The problem of people putting plastic bags in their recycling is persistent. When a plastic bag ends up at a materials recovery facility, they frequently jam sorting machinery requiring shutdowns to manually extract the bags. Think of a string getting stuck in your vacuum. Here is a GREAT video illustrating this process:

(Plastic bags in MRF machinery. Photo credit to DNA Info Chicago)  

Alternatively, when plastic bags make their way to a landfill, they still pose a hazard. Special cyclone fencing is in use at Coffin Butte Landfill, where Lake Oswego's waste goes, to trap errant plastic bags. Once a week, a crew goes out to clean the bags out of the fencing.

I've Heard Reusable Bags are Gross and Full of Germs. Is this true?

Supermarket baggers do not like handling filthy bags any more than you do. Keeping bags clean is as important as keeping your refrigerator clean, washing your meat and produce, and practicing safe food handling. Some bags are easier to clean than other- cotton or canvas bags can be easily washed, while the mixed blend nylons and polypropylenes can get pretty grimy. They can be cleaned with soap and water, though stains may persist. Please note that this bag ban does not include plastic bags provided to wrap meat or contain produce. The primary reason for this is food safety.

Can I bring whatever bag I want to the store to avoid paying for a paper bag? Even plastic bags?

Absolutely. If you have stockpiles of plastic or paper bags, reuse them! You can use any type of bag, or even carry everything out in your arms. Whatever works for you. The pass through fee ONLY applies if you take a paper bag at the checkout.

(photo credit to Behavioral Economics)

I use plastic bags as dog poop bags and to clean the cat box. What should I do now?

Fortunately or unfortunately, plastic bags will not disappear from your life. Reuse your plastic produce or meat bags for pet waste. If you get a newspaper, use the plastic newspaper bag. Dog poop bags can also be purchased in enormous quantities at a low cost from Amazon, and many of these are even biodegradable. Dog poop bags will still continue to be available in Lake Oswego parks and along pathways.

Why do we not want to use paper? Isn't it recyclable?

In theory, yes. However, for decades we were shipping pulp and paper to be recycled in China. This is no longer an option. With the closure of many pulp and paper mills domestically and a very low price for recycled pulp, a lot of paper is being stockpiled, or even landfilled, in the absence of a domestic paper recycling market. Paper is also more expensive for retailers than plastic. Thin plastic bags can be trucked to stores in enormous volumes, while paper bags take up more space and cannot be shipped at the same volume. Plastic, as a fossil fuel byproduct, is also much cheaper to produce than a paper bag. This ordinance would mandate that all paper bags be at least 40% recycled content, which is a good environmental option, and paper does biodegrade much more easily than plastic. From a waste perspective, paper is a better option as it is not a persistent pollutant. However, the cost to retailers to provide them is high. No bag is free, but paper bags are more costly than plastic.





Contact Information

Jenny Slepian

Sustainability and Management Analyst