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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Should Portland's Bag Ban Include a Charge for Paper? Leonard, Saltzman Skeptical

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Oct 10, 2012 at 11:59 AM

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Nearly a year after Portland joined a growing list of cities with full or partial bans on reusable plastic bags, Mayor Sam Adams and the city's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability are plotting some so-called "next steps" for the not-so-controversial program that might, actually, be fairly contentious.

Firm resistance to one of those ideas—charging shoppers 5 cents for every paper bag they use—erupted from City Commissioners Randy Leonard and Dan Saltzman during testimony this morning on a report charting how well the ban's first year went.

"I want to understand why, all of the sudden, paper bags have become synonymous with plastic bags," Leonard said, later suggesting that BPS had contracted a bad case of "mission creep." "We were focused on eliminating plastic bags and now the argument seems to have expanded."

Saltzman then said he supported the ban specifically because it didn't target the paper bag industry, which "employs people" locally (timber industry talking points, anyone?): "I want to take this opportunity to say that I don't believe it's a good time to be taxing food. Period... That's what it is."

The report did have some good news:

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But, as mentioned, Adams and BPS aren't looking to stand pat. The paper fee is just one option, with the city also considering extending the plastic ban to all retailers, including smaller outfits currently exempt. Or it could decide to maintain the status quo. A plan will emerge next month, Adams says. But pushing for a paper fee, interestingly, counts as an area where both grocery lobbyists and environmentalists actually agree.

The grocery lobby says putting the cost of paper bags on shoppers will spare retailers extra costs in what's been, they say, an expensive shift. Environmentalists argue that paper—even though it's widely and highly recycled and doesn't affect rivers and animals like plastic—costs us trees and has a large carbon footprint.

Leonard still wasn't budging: "We have a robust [paper] recycling program in Portland. And I know virtually no one who would throw a paper bag away. And people put their food scraps in them. You're characterizing them as 'We have to get past this throwaway society.' And we have."

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