Bag bans advance
By Jake Thomas, Resource Recycling
Portland has become the first city in Oregon to ban plastic bags just a week after Bellingham, Washington enacted its own restriction on the totes. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland is also considering putting a levy on the controversial sacks.
Portland, the largest city in Oregon, which has already done away with expanded polystyrene foam packaging, has passed a prohibition on plastic bags in direct response to the Oregon legislature dropping a potential statewide ban after heavy lobbying from industry groups. The ban was passed unanimously by the Portland City Council and is a fulfillment of a pledge made by Mayor Sam Adams that he would introduce such a measure should the state legislature fail to take up the issue.
"Portland and Oregon have always led the nation on smart environmental policy," reads a statement on the mayor's website. "Portland's economic prosperity is being built on our creativity, our innovation, our expertise in sustainability, and our heritage of great manufacturing. By taking action now, we're continuing our city's leadership in sustainable urban living and making an investment in our city's future."
The ordinance goes into effect on October 15, 2011 and applies to any grocery store with annual sales of more than $2 million, or has 10,000 square feet of retail space that also has a pharmacy. Stores affected by the ban will only be able to provide customers with paper bags containing a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer content, reusable bags or compostable plastic bags that are acceptable for Portland's municipal composting program.
Stores that ignore the law will be fined $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second and $500 for any subsequent infringements.
The ban does not include any fee on the use of paper bags, which has prompted some earlier ban supporters to argue the ordinance merely shifts the environmental impact to another resource. Additionally, it includes several exemptions, including plastic bags used for produce, meat and bulk goods; the Portland Farmer's Market; newspaper sleeves; and small pharmacies.
Just a week earlier, the Bellingham, Washington city council voted unanimously for a similar ban, which will go into effect a year from now, reports the Bellingham Herald . The ordinance will require retailers to charge customers a nickel for each paper bag that must contain 40 percent recycled content. The new law makes exemptions for low-income people and farmers' markets. Restaurants would also be exempt.
Half a world away, Northern Ireland Environment Minister Alex Attwood is pushing for a new charge for plastic bags to be included in the government's budget that would raise revenue and reduce the environmental impacts of the sacks, reports the Belfast Telegraph . If approved, it would go into effect in 2013. The Republic of Ireland and Wales already have similar fees.