Starting Jan. 1, Oregon consumers will see the Sustainable Shopping Initiative take effect at the cash registers of their local retailers and restaurants.
The initiative, House Bill 2509, passed in the 2019 Oregon legislative session and prohibits retail stores and restaurants from providing single-use checkout bags while placing restrictions on other types.
The legislation was passed in a bid to reduce Oregon’s single-use bags, particularly plastic bags which cause contamination in the recycling stream and add to the growing amount of plastic debris in the ocean.
“Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing issues facing Oregon’s rivers, oceans and wildlife,” said State Director of Environment Oregon Celeste Meiffren-Swango in a statement in response to the bill’s passing in June. “Single-use plastics inevitably end up in our waterways and on our beaches and this pollution is damaging our ecosystems and endangering public health.”
The house bill defines checkout bags under four categories: reusable plastic, reusable fabric, recycled paper and single-use.
Reusable plastic bags are defined as having handles, are designed to be used multiple times and are made of a durable plastic which is at least 4 mils thick (the equivalent of .1016 millimeters).
Reusable fabric bags have handles, are designed to be used multiple times and made of cloth or other machine-washable fabric.
Recycled paper bags must be made of at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled fiber.
Single-use includes bags made of paper, plastic and other material which do not meet the definition of the other three.
Certain exceptions to the provisions exist, such as bags designed to hold bulk items, specialty garment bags and bags sold in a package used for purposes of food storage, garbage or pet waste.
Customers with a WIC (Women, Infants and Children) voucher or electronic benefits transfer card may also be eligible to receive recycled paper and reusable plastic bags for free.
Several Oregon cities like Ashland, Portland, Corvallis and Eugene have already instituted their own plastic bans.
In 2017, the American Chemistry Council reported U.S. plastics generation at 35.4 million tons with a recycling rate of 8.4 percent. A 2015 published study by Science reported that more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into oceans each year worldwide.
In November, Environment Oregon released a report using data from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) stating that Oregon has been generating more waste and recycling less of it, with the exception of containers covered by the state’s bottle bill. Data from 2017 showed that Oregonians recycled 27.1 percent of their waste and composted 9.5 percent, a drop of nearly 5 percent since 2014.
Meanwhile, 5 percent more waste was generated in the short span between 2016 and 2017.
The Sustainable Shopping Initiative is intended to incentivize less plastic use as consumers who do not bring reusable bags may be expected to pay an extra fee at the register.
Across the state, the price may vary by store, city and county. The fee is kept by the businesses, which is meant to offset the cost of purchasing more sustainable bags.
The house bill requires a charge of at least five cents for “fee-required” bags, but leaves it to local governments to decide whether higher fees will be levied, though there are currently no plans to do so in Cottage Grove.
“We’re not going to change the state fee at all,” said City Manager Richard Meyers.
Local store owner of Cottage Market Ishwer Singh welcomed the move.
“It’s good for the environment,” he said through a interpreter. “And it’s going to be good for the coming generations.”
While retail stores are not required to charge a fee if reusable fabric bags are offered as a promotion (limited to 12 days a year), a charge must apply to all other recycled and reusable bags at the register.
For restaurants, recycled paper bags may be offered at no extra charge, though a fee is required for reusable plastic bags.
As a Class D violation, stores in violation of the house bill provisions are subject to a maximum fine of $250. Each day the retailer commits the violation is considered a new offense. Enforcement of the law is left to local authorities.
Stores must also provide the DEQ with information on bag fees and customers’ usage of recycled and reusable bags by Sept. 15, 2024, which the DEQ will report to the state legislature the following year.
In adapting to the changeover, Meyers recommended that consumers remain mindful of their bag use and wash accordingly.
“People need to think about how they use their bags,” said Meyers. “It has happened in places where people use their bags to haul meat and then the next time they use it they bring their fresh vegetables home in it and they get sick.”