December 30, 2019 - The Observer
APR in the News
Plastic gets bagged
Putting groceries or takeout into single-use plastic bags for free in Oregon ends Tuesday.
House Bill 2905 banning single-use plastic grocery bags in stores and restaurants in Oregon takes effect Jan. 1, 2020. Paper bags will be used instead, but they will cost at least 5 cents each at the store. Restaurants will be allowed to provide paper bags at no cost. The 5-cent fee goes back to the store to help with the cost of production of the bags.
“The initial investment will be more because the bags are more expensive,” Jordan Hackwith, owner of Cove Dollars Corner Market and Fuel, said. “But because I am charging for it, it will be a wash.”
Cinco de Mayo, at 2102 Adams Ave., La Grande, uses plastic bags for its takeout orders. Owner Maria Correa said the business will use boxes and possibly paper bags once the correct size is determined.
“It is definitely going to affect us,” Correa said. “But maybe customers can bring in their own plastic bags from home.”
Some local businesses have already begun stocking paper bags to be used in the new year. Market Place Fresh Foods in downtown La Grande will offer paper bags for 5 cents each and will sell reusable fabric bags. The store will also implement a recycling program where people can leave their reusable bags for other people to use.
“It’s kind of a ‘take one if you need it, leave one if you have an extra’ kind of program,” Market Place Fresh Foods store director Lisa Snyder said.
According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, plastic bags “contaminate the recycling stream and endanger the safety of workers who must untangle them from recycling equipment.” The DEQ stated on its website that decreasing the amount of plastic bags is a “positive first step toward addressing the large amount of plastic debris in the oceans, which threatens Oregon’s marine wildlife.”
Local state lawmakers Rep. Greg Barreto of Cove and Sen. Bill Hansell of Athena, both Republicans, did not support the bill.
When contacted last week, Hansell was on Christmas vacation with this family but provided this comment:
“I voted no on the bill, because I felt it went too far. Bags are a convenience, especially for older citizens. If I remember the bill correctly, it bans plastic but not paper bags. Yet the bill sponsors put a charge on paper bags, which I thought was unnecessary and inconsistent with the intent of the bill to ban plastic bags. Having taken away a customer’s choice and encouraging people to switch to environmentally friendly paper bags, it made no sense to me to make people pay to use those paper bags.”
Barreto said he saw the bill as an overreach on the part of the government. He said he wonders how far this will go down the line of banning all kinds of plastic.
“I think it’s not the government’s business to tell retail stores what to use when checking people out,” Barreto said. “I don’t agree with the government getting mixed up in the market on saying how much it will cost to provide something.”
Major retail chains, such as Walmart and Safeway, have already been dealing with such a ban in other states and cities. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York and Vermont have established statewide bans.
“Albertsons and Safeway stores in Oregon are ready for the plastic bag ban implementation,” according to Nicky Nielsen, marketing promotional coordinator for Safeway. “Stores are supplied with paper and reusable plastic bags and we encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags.”
The Safeway and Albertsons chains are owned by the same company.
“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 purchases home but also in the packaging for products. One of Walmart’s goals is to “achieve 100 percent recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable packaging for its private brand packaging by 2025.” Stores that use plastic bags offer bins for people to drop off their used bags to be recycled into new ones, and the company is developing alternatives to plastic products such as 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 also is joined by a bill requiring restaurants to give only plastic straws to customers who specifically ask for them and will go into effect on
Jan. 1. A third bill, which would have banned foam takeout containers, did not pass.
Stores that violate the new law may receive a fine of up to $250 per violation.
According to the law, people who make purchases using WIC vouchers and electronic benefits transfer cards will receive free recycled paper bags or reusable plastic bags at checkout. Stores may offer reusable fabric bags for free as a promotion for up to 12 days in a year.
Under this law, cities, counties or other local governments can increase fees for bags as long as they follow the other provisions of the law.
La Grande City Manager Robert Strope said the city has no provision for increasing fees and the question has not come up with the council at this point.
Union County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Suzannah Moore-Hemann said that while the process may have hiccups in the beginning, she believes people will enjoy having a couple of nice reusable bags instead of a stack of single-use plastic to find a place for.
“I have heard some people say they hope it is a good transition,” Moore-Hemann said.
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