Those hundreds of plastic grocery bags stuffed under your kitchen sink are about to become a rare commodity in Oregon.
Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill 2905 on Thursday, banning single-use plastic grocery bags from stores and restaurants starting in 2020. The bill also requires stores to charge at least 5 cents per bag for paper bags instead of giving them out for free.
Area stores are still considering how they will adapt.
Dave Mead, manager of Harvest Foods in Umatilla, said they had already been offering paper bags as an option and selling reusable bags. They also just purchased mesh bags that customers can use for produce.
“We’re not sure yet how we’ll handle the meat department yet,” he said, noting the potential sanitation concerns of raw meat products leaking onto other groceries.
The new law will likely drive a large increase in demand for paper bags, which Mead said he hoped would not cause a shortage. He said he understood the environmental concerns behind the law, but most stores have been using plastic because it’s cheaper.
“This is a cost of doing business, and it gets passed on,” he said.
Plastic bags are a major source of waterway pollution and often turn up in the stomachs of dead sea turtles, dolphins and whales. Concern about their effects on wildlife and the environment in general have led 127 countries to ban or tax single-use grocery bags, according to the United Nations.
In the United States, California, Hawaii and New York have already enacted bans. Some individual cities in Oregon, such as Hood River, had previously banned the bags via city ordinance.
Brandt Koo, owner of the 11th Street Market in Hermiston, said he questioned how much the ban would really decrease pollution.
“It inconveniences people to make them feel better,” he said.
His market uses single-use plastic bags now, but he said they would probably switch to paper. A lot of the neighborhood market’s customers walk to the store, however, and he said he had yet to find a paper bag with good enough handles to allow them to carry home more than one bag at a time.
“We sell a lot of beer and drinks that are pretty heavy,” he said.
Major retail chains, such as Walmart and Safeway, have already been dealing with such a ban in other states and cities.
“Walmart is aware of the legislation and will be ready to comply with any new laws,” Tiffany Wilson, director of communications for Walmart, said in an email.
In February, the company announced new initiatives to reduce plastic waste not only from the bags people use to carry their groceries home, but also in the packaging for products. One of its goals is to “achieve 100 percent recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable packaging for its private brand packaging by 2025.” It also set up bins at stores for people to drop off their used bags to be recycled into new ones, and is developing alternatives to plastic products like single-use forks.
“This announcement sends a positive signal to the marketplace, especially in the United States,” Steve Alexander, CEO of the Association for Plastics Recyclers, said in a statement.
“We applaud Walmart for establishing such a strong recyclable packaging goal and encourage others to pursue similar ambitions.”
Oregon’s plastic bag ban is also joined by a bill requiring restaurants to only give plastic straws to customer who specifically ask for them. A third bill, which would have banned styrofoam take-out containers, did not pass.