PORTLAND, Oregon, November 12, 2012 (ENS) - Portland City Council will consider the outgoing mayor's attempt to expand the city's existing ban on single-use plastic bags during its meeting on Thursday.
Portland Mayor Sam Adams, a bag ban proponent, has less than 60 days before he leaves office and Mayor-elect Charlie Hayes takes over. Plastic bag pollution is not an issue Hayes focused on during his winning campaign against Jefferson Smith.
Mayor Adams declined to run for a second term. Now, during the two months he has left, Mayor Adams wants to free Portland from plastic bags.
Under his leadership, and after a statewide ban bill failed to pass the Oregon legislature last June, Portland City Council implemented an ordinance that requires most grocery stores and large stores with pharmacies to provide only recycled paper bags or reusable bags to customers.
Last month the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability presented a one-year report to City Council detailing the results of the bag ban that showed reusable checkout bag use had increased over 300 percent.
Mayor Adams said that demonstrates a strong first step to promote the use of reusable checkout bags.
"While we began with the largest generators of single use plastic bags, there are still many retail outlets and food providers that use them," the mayor's blog states. "Unnecessary plastic checkout bags continue to litter Portland's neighborhoods and natural areas, and create problems in local recycling facilities."
"Building on the success of the first phase of Portland's single-use bag policy," blogs Mayor Adams, "I am proposing to expand the current ordinance to include all retail and food establishments, along with currently subject businesses, within the next year.
The proposed expansion would govern all retailers, food providers and grocery stores in Portland.
"Under the proposed expansion, retail establishments or food providers with stores greater than 10,000 square feet would be required to provide only recycled paper bags or reusable bags as checkout bags to customers on March 1, 2013," the mayor explains on his blog. "All other retail establishments and food providers would be subject to the ordinance on October 1, 2013."
Plastic bags used for prescriptions or "to protect a purchased item from damaging or contaminating other purchased items when placed in a recycled paper bag or reusable bag" are exempt. Portland's farmer's markets and hundreds of food carts would have to comply with the expanded ban.
The ordinance calls the current situation with respect to plastic bags "an emergency."
"The Council declares an emergency exists because the on-going use of single-use plastic shopping bags is harmful to the public health and welfare; therefore this ordinance shall be in full force and effect from and after its passage by the Council."
The proposed expansion will be heard at City Council on Thursday, November 15 at 2pm.
Oregonians use an estimated 1.7 billion single-use plastic bags each year - the equivalent of 444 bags for every man, woman, and child in Oregon, every year.
"That's a bad habit worth kicking," blogged Mayor Adams last year.
"Growing up on the Oregon coast," he wrote then, "I saw firsthand the devastating effects that discarded plastic has on our waterways and wildlife. In Portland, and in all of Oregon, single-use plastic checkout bags are an eyesore, getting into our waterways and our storm drains."
"Plastic bags are a nuisance, jamming up recycling facility machines and costing those facilities tens of thousands of dollars a month in maintenance and labor to fix the mess. Plastic bags clog a machines in a recycling facilities. Plastic bags often end up in our waters," wrote the mayor.
"And globally," he explained, "plastic bags are part of an environmental crisis - from the oil needed to manufacture and transport bags around the planet, to the massive plastic islands of trash destroying our oceans and intoxicating our marine food web."
Public comments on Mayor Adams' website indicate a wide range of opinion about the proposed plastic bag ban expansion. Some vow never to buy anything in Portland again if the bag ban is expanded. Some call the ban excess regulation and government control.
Some blame the garbage trucks that let plastic bags fly around when they collect the trash.
But most anti-bag ban commenters say the city of Portland and the state of Oregon have much bigger problems than plastic bag pollution to deal with.
"Doesn't the Mayor have more important things to do than to cater to idiots that want to control everything we do. How about making the city more business friendly so more jobs can be created," wrote one commenter.
"I'm not exactly going to cry without plastic bags," wrote another. "Being single and in a small studio (in NW Portland by the way), I hardly buy any groceries. I in fact prefer paper bags because of the handles - makes walking the 6 blocks home easier.
I just think that with the myriad of other problems facing this city and state, a plastic bag ban isn't worth our time or attention. Besides, where is that bag 'sin tax' going?"
Pro-bag ban commenters say things like this. "Please do everything you can to ban disposable bags in Oregon! We diligently use our own bags at the grocery, and STILL have hundreds of bags lurking in our 'bag cupboard.' Bread bags, cereal bags, produce bags, newspaper bags, cracker bags, convenience store bags...they are everywhere! Aack!"
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.
Cover photo: Outgoing Portland Mayor Sam Adams. Both photos courtesy Office of Mayor Adams