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Friday, January 21, 2011

New Bills Roundup: Bag Ban is Back!

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Fri, Jan 21, 2011 at 1:44 PM

The legislative session kicked off this week, with over 1,600 new laws and rule changes proposed by Oregon's representatives. I'll be doing roundups of the laws relevant to Portland on the blog all week. For more interesting bills, see this week's news section.

Last summer, environmentalists scored a big victory when Portland City Council voted to ban certain stores from giving out plastic bags, unless the legislature passes a statewide ban this session.

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Well, that statewide law is now in motion. Senate Bill 536 proposes a plastic bag ban and, significantly, was introduced by two Republicans and two Democrats working together. OMG. The harmonious hippie future is real.

The current state bill differs slightly from Portland's proposal. The big difference is that Portland's bag ban would only apply to large grocery stores, a move that helped the ban, whereas the state's ban applies to all retail stores. Like Portland's rule, it would mandate that shops charge five cents per paper bag and use only recycled paper bags.

Despite the bipartisan support, this is going to be a fight. The Center for Consumer Freedom (a group that SourceWatch describes as "a front group for restaurant, alcohol, tobacco and other industries") sent out a press release today about the bill, focusing on the alarming fact that most people never wash their reusable tote bags, making them a haven for bacteria. Here's the quote: "Politicians often respond to activist-driven junk science by banning or taxing products without giving any thought to what people will use instead. Now recent research demonstrates that some of these bags contain lead and can be a breeding ground for bacteria."

SF Weekly had a good cover story this week about the trend of progressive governments banning things as quick fixes rather than trying to attack the problem itself. Cascade Policy Institute VP Todd Wynn made a similar point in an editorial last week in Salem's newspaper.

But I think in the case of plastic bags, a statewide ban is a good idea because it's a situation where if all retail has to make the shift, no store will be at a disadvantage. When Portland passed its ban the bag rule, the major input from businesses was to make it apply to all retailers to even the playing field. And the alternatives that the plastics industry is proposing—like more plastic bag recycling stations—put the onus on consumers to be responsible in a way that will just never catch on enough to combat the major environmental problems plastic bags cause.

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