Plastic Bags: Useful for Carrying Things and… Collectors Items?

My how times have changed. After the Oregon legislature and the City of Portland both failed to ban plastic bags in 2010, a plastic bag ban proposal enjoys bipartisan support in the coming legislative session.

Senate Bill 536 was introduced during the legislative organizational days this month. Environmentalists are leading the charge to ban plastic bags, citing litter and other environmental impacts as a reason to get rid of them.

A nickel charge on paper bags helped gain the support of grocers, who want to recoup costs. The nickel charge also will encourage people to bring their own reusable bags, further reducing waste.

The proposed ban now carries the ever-present moniker “It’s About Jobs!” Sens. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, and Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, say that a plastic bag ban is an Oregon job-enhancing scheme.

Oregon is home to pulp and paper mills that produce paper bags. According to the senators, their proposed plastic bag ban will help support jobs producing paper bags without hurting jobs in the manufacture of plastic bags, since plastic bags are manufactured outside of Oregon. Paper bags will be required to be made with at least 40 percent recycled content.

"These plastic bags have taken their toll on Oregon's environment, but they've also taken their toll on Oregon's economy," Hass said at a recent public hearing on the issue. "The number of Oregon jobs [making paper bags] has steadily eroded in large part because of the use of plastic, non-biodegradable bags."

Recyclers also support a plastic bag ban because if bags are placed at curbside in co-mingled recycling cans, they jam sorting machines and shut down recycling processes.

Opponents, including the plastics manufacturing industry, claim there are programs in place to recycle plastic bags, along with some private funding for public education on the proper recycling of plastic bags. An educated public would recycle bags and, therefore, do away with the environmental hazard of litter and landfills.

All Fred Meyer stores offer plastic bag recycling and sell reusable bags. According to its website, the reusable bag program has kept 18 tons of plastic from the waste stream. Still, in an effort to prepare for the likely ban, Fred Meyer has stopped using plastic bags in 10 of its stores.

If enacted, Oregon likely will be the first state to ban plastic bags.