Plastic bag ban could include a fee for paper bags

Latest effort to ban plastic bags in Oregon features a five-cent paper bag fee.

Latest effort to ban plastic bags in Oregon features a five-cent paper bag fee. 

Lawmakers and environmentalists are reviving an effort to ban plastic bags in Oregon, and while the details remain undecided, one thing is clear: Grocers would far prefer a bill that includes a five-cent fee for paper bags.

The Legislature tried unsuccessfully to ban plastic bags statewide to reduce litter and ocean pollution in 2011. Since then the cities of Portland, Corvallis and Eugene have passed plastic bag bans.

Portland’s ban will expand from large stores only to all stores and eateries, including food carts and farmers markets, in October. It does not include a fee for the paper bags replacing the less expensive plastic bags.

Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, said the ban costs the average Safeway-sized store of 50,000 square feet about $50,000-$60,000 per year.

“When you ban plastic and there’s no incentive to bring your own bag, then the cost of paper goes through the roof,” he said. “We’re in a one-cent margin business, so if a store takes a $50,000 hit, prices are going to rise. There’s no way to avoid it.”

Gilliam and the grocers worked with the cities of Corvallis and Eugene to pass laws that allow stores to charge five cents for each paper bag. He said the grocers would support a statewide law that charged a nickel for paper bags. “We would rather have a uniform policy statewide to help us with distribution,” he said.

Several cities with plastic bag bans in place are amending their laws to include fees for paper bags. Seattle recently established a five-cent fee for paper bags. San Francisco, the first major U.S. city to ban plastic bags, is considering a 10-cent fee for paper bags, as is Los Angeles.

Elsewhere in the world, entire nations including Italy and Rwanda have banned plastic bags entirely. They are even banned in China, where most plastic bags are manufactured.

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