Plastic Bag Ban Options

Lake Oswego is considering a ban on single use carryout plastic bags

At the October 16, 2018 City Council meeting, staff were directed to write an ordinance that would ban single use carryout plastic bags at all Lake Oswego retailers. Here are the details being proposed:

Bag Types:

  • Single use plastic carryout bags that are given to you at the checkout
  • This does NOT INCLUDE:
    • Bulk food, meat, or produce bags
    • Pharmacy prescription bags
    • Dry cleaning bags
    • Bags used to carry out liquid takeout items
    • Product bags (ziplocs, poop bags, etc)

What retailers would be included?

In its current proposed form, the ban would apply to all Lake Oswego retailers, including restaurants, the Farmers Market, and City sponsored events.

Would there be a bag fee for paper bags?

The proposed fee is 10 cents for a paper bag, at all retailers larger than 10,000 square feet. Smaller retailers would have the option to charge a minimum of 10 cents for a bag, or simply build the price of paper bags into their costs.

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?

Lake Oswego would use the same definition of "reusable" currently being used by McMinnville and proposed for use in Salem. It would include any "machine washable cloth, woven synthetic fiber, or other non-plastic material." Thicker plastic bags would not be permitted, however, woven polypropylene would.

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 DNAInfo 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.

What Is the Proposed Timing?

If an ordinance is passed, large retailers greater than 10,000 square feet would have 6 months to comply and stop using plastic carryout bags. All other retailers would need to comply within one year. This allows retailers time to get through their existing stocks of plastic bags.

How Will This Be Enforced?

The City will rely on a complaint driven system to Code Enforcement. Fines will be issued, though those are yet to be determined. Typically, fines range from $100 for a first time offense to $500 for repeat offenders. Code Enforcement will need to verify that a retailer is in non-compliance.

How Can I Get Reusable Bags? I don't want to have to buy anything.

The City is working on a few options to provide free bags to residents. We will have bag drop off/pick up boxes at City Hall, ACC, the Farmers Market and potentially other locations where residents can drop off bags they don't need for others to pick up and use. We are also working with an organization who may provide a free reusable bag to every home. We hope to continue to provide avenues for a bag sharing program to ease the burden on all Lake Oswegans, whether that is based on cost, or simply on forgetfulness.

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 quantitites 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.

I have comments. Where can I share my thoughts?

There will be a public hearing on this at the December 4 City Council meeting. Anyone is welcome to provide public comment.

Additionally, you are welcome to provide written comment to Jenny Slepian, Sustainability and Management Analyst at jslepian@ci.oswego.or.us. This is preferable to a phone call, as we can have a written record of your feedback.

 

 

Contact Information

Jenny Slepian

Sustainability and Management Analyst

jslepian@lakeoswego.city

503-635-0291

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