January 10

Portland considers shopping bag fee: 10¢

It would apply to grocery and convenience stores, and seeks to reduce waste and litter. But critics see drawbacks.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Shoppers could soon be paying to use plastic or paper bags to carry groceries out of food and convenience stores in Portland.

Today's poll: Portland bag fees

Should Portland enact an ordinance that would assess a 10-cent-per-bag fee on both paper and plastic bags?

Yes

No

View Results

click image to enlarge

A shopper leaves Hannaford in Portland on Thursday with groceries in plastic bags.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Advocates who want to see a reduction in single-use plastic grocery bags hope a per-bag fee will help convince shoppers in Portland to switch to reusable totes like this one.

Shutterstock photo

At a glance: REDUCING PLASTIC BAGS

More than 100 ordinances in 17 states and the District of Columbia either ban plastic bags or impose fees on them, according to the Surfrider Foundation, a California-based environmental advocacy group that is pushing for stricter rules here in Portland. Plastic bags are regulated in roughly 20 countries.

Los Angeles County, which banned plastic bags and places a 10-cent charge on paper bags, reported a 94 percent reduction in plastic bags and a 25 percent reduction in paper bags.

Portland’s draft ordinance, which covers both paper and plastic single-use bags given out at supermarkets and convenience stores, is based partly on one in Boulder, Colo., which imposed a fee and also spent $120,000 to purchase 40,000 reusable bags for its residents. No one is talking about spending city money on reusable bags in Portland.

A working group will meet Monday to review other U.S. communities’ efforts to discourage single-use bags and consider an ordinance in Portland that would assess a 10-cent fee on every paper and plastic bag.

Some members of the Green Packaging Working Group are jaded by their last effort to reduce waste and litter in the city. The group developed a proposed ban on plastic foam packaging, at the request of the City Council, but the idea got tabled.

Advocates for a fee on bags say it would discourage their use and reduce a common form of litter that often clogs city storm drains and gets into waterways, where it is a hazard to marine life.

Opponents of the idea, including a spokeswoman for Maine grocers, say it would encourage people to shop outside Portland, and that education and recycling are better solutions to the litter problem.

More than 100 ordinances in 17 states and the District of Columbia ban plastic bags or impose fees on them, according to the Surfrider Foundation, a California-based environmental group that is advocating for stricter rules in Portland. Plastic bags are regulated in about 20 countries.

Los Angeles County, which banned plastic bags and imposes a 10-cent charge on paper bags, reported a 94 percent reduction in plastic bags and a 25 percent reduction in paper bags, according to data compiled by Portland’s staff.

Portland’s draft ordinance is based partly on one in Boulder, Colo., which imposed a fee and spent $120,000 to buy 40,000 reusable bags for its residents. No one is talking about spending city money on reusable bags in Portland.

Portland’s ordinance would cover paper and plastic single-use bags given out at supermarkets and convenience stores.

City Councilor Edward Suslovic, who chairs the working group, did not return calls Wednesday or Thursday to discuss why only grocery and convenience stores are being considered for the fee.

Several types of plastic bags would be exempt, including those used for newspapers, dry cleaning, bulk items, frozen food, fish, meat, flowers, plants and baked goods. Customers who have government-issued debit cars used for food stamps and welfare benefits would not be subject to the fee.

The retailer would keep 40 percent of the fee to educate customers, train employees and pay for signs alerting customers to the fee. The rest would go to the city to educate the public, clean storm drains and fund cleanup events. It’s unknown how much revenue would be generated.

If a business chooses not to participate, the city would estimate a fee for the business and tack on a 10 percent penalty and an additional 1 percent in interest. There would be an appeals process for businesses.

POLL: SOME LIKE IDEA, OTHERS DON’T

Reaction to the idea was mixed Thursday at Paul’s Food Center on Congress Street, though most people agreed that a fee would make them change their behavior.

Phillie Bartlett, 45, of Cumberland Avenue did some quick math as a cashier put his items in a handful of bags. If he spent 50 cents a week on bags, that would work out to $26 a year.

“That’s a minimum of a half a case of Heineken,” he said.

If bags weren’t free, Bartlett said, he would likely bring his own, including plastic bags from retailers like Renys, which would be exempt from the fee.

Dennis Pineau, 69, simply opposed the bag fee. “I can’t afford any more,” he said.

Kristie Collins, 34, of Ocean Avenue said the fee would be a good way to reduce plastic that harms the environment.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Portland bag fees

Should Portland enact an ordinance that would assess a 10-cent-per-bag fee on both paper and plastic bags?

Yes

No

View Results