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Oregon And Washington Lawmakers Consider Statewide Plastic Bag Bans

Plastic bags
Lucila Cejas
Plastic bags

Lawmakers in both Oregon and Washington are considering bills that would ban single-use plastic bags statewide to reduce plastic pollution.

Right now, bills in both states would prohibit retailers from giving out single-use plastic check-out bags and require them to charge a 10-cent fee on paper bags.

Washington lawmakers have already passed two versions of the bill out of the committee. Oregon’s House Committee on Energy and Environmenttook up the bill on Tuesday.

A statewide law could replace local ordinances that also ban plastic bags.

Shawn Miller with the Northwest Grocers Association said his group wants to avoid a patchwork of conflicting local restrictions with 16 local governments in Oregon already having passed their own plastic bag bans and more considering the idea.

"It is time to go ahead and adopt a statewide system that is consistent," Miller told lawmakers. “It just takes one small change in one of the local governments to cause us a lot of problems just from a business standpoint.”

Miller said his group only supports the bill as long as it includes a fee on paper bags to cover the extra cost to grocers.

But that fee is a deal-breaker for opponents with the Northwest Pulp and Paper Association who make paper bags.

"Portland was the first city to pass a plastic bag ban 10 years ago," lobbyist Paul Cosgrove told lawmakers. "It didn't include a fee on paper, and it still does not have a fee on paper, and it’s been operating well in big stores and little stores for that 10-year period."

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, said paper bag use in Portland increased by 491 percent after the city banned plastic bags.

She and other supporters say the fee will encourage people to bring reusable bags while dramatically reducing the amount of plastic polluting waterways, harming wildlife and clogging up machinery in recycling facilities when people mistakenly put plastic bags in their recycling bins.

"We are going to see an increase in our paper bags but we want people to change their behavior," Sollman said. "Plastics are wreaking havoc on our environment, on our land and in our waterways." 

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting