Oregon lawmakers pass ban on plastic bags

Plastic bag ban awaits Oregon Governor Kate Brown's signature. (KOMO File Photo)

Single-use plastic bags for groceries, restaurant takeout, and other retail shopping will be a thing of the past, under a bill approved by the Oregon Senate today.

On Tuesday, Oregon Senators passed House Bill 2509 with a 17-12 vote. The bill prohibits stores and restaurants from providing single-use plastic bags to customers. Businesses would be able to provide customers with recycled paper bags or reusable plastic bags, for a fee of at least 5 cents from the customer, according to HB2509. The bill now awaits Governor Kate Brown's signature before it becomes law.

“Plastic bags are difficult to recycle and are light enough to be blown around easily,” Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) said. “As a result, they are strewn all over the place and are a common form of pollution in our world’s oceans. They don’t biodegrade and so the only way to rid ourselves of them is to stop using them. Much like in the case of polystyrene, something we use once shouldn’t be able to pollute our environment for hundreds of years.”

There are some exemptions under the proposed law. It would not apply to bags used in buying bulk foods, produce, and bakery goods. Plastic wraps from frozen food, meat, fish, flowers, and other damp products are also exempt. Consumers will also still be able to buy plastic bags as they would for trash bags, to store food, or to pick up pet waste.

“Oregon’s local governments already have been stepping up to do their part,” Dembrow said. “But we need a consistent, statewide effort to have a truly meaningful impact in keeping plastic bags out of our natural environment and out of our oceans, where they are doing significant damage to aquatic life.”

Across the United States, 12 state legislatures have considered measures to regulate using single-use checkout bags, especially plastic bags, at grocery stores and other businesses. Maine enacted the first of these in 1991, requiring retailers to provide checkout bag recycling as a condition of providing plastic bags to customers at the time goods are sold. Other states have imposed bans or fees on single-use checkout bags. In Oregon, 10 cities have banned single-use checkout bags, beginning with Portland in 2011. Each city’s policy is slightly different. This bill will create statewide consistency.

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