Oregon Plastic Bag Ban Rules

“Passing the Sustainable Shopping Initiative makes Oregon a national leader in the fight to protect our environment from plastic pollution,” said Charlie Plybon, Oregon Policy Manager at the Surfrider Foundation. “This is an important step in protecting our environment while promoting an Oregon philosophy for shopping with reusable bags.” Single-use plastics pollute our environment and harm wildlife in the sea, rivers and our surrounding lands. Plastic bags are one of the top beach and highway cleaning items in Oregon, and less than 8% of them are recycled. Plastic has been documented in nearly 700 species of marine life, including gray whales that have washed up in the Pacific Northwest. Plastic bags also cause operational problems and contamination in recycling and composting facilities by clogged machines. Lightweight plastic bags often wrap around sorting machines in recycling plants, causing equipment to become blocked. The machines then have to be cleaned manually, accounting for almost a third of the labor costs in the facilities and an increased risk of injury to staff. The Sustainable Shopping Initiative aims to reduce plastic pollution and encourage Oregon residents to use reusable bags. Under the bill, stores can no longer offer thin plastic bags at checkout, but instead offer recycled paper bags for a minimum fee of 5 cents. Thicker reusable plastic bags also require a 5-cent debit fee.

The fee encourages the public to bring their own bags and also helps smaller retail stores cover the cost of more expensive paper. The policy approach has been established in hundreds of cities across the country and has proven to be very effective when analyzed as a national policy. The bill applies to all retail stores and restaurants in Oregon. Participants in food aid programs are exempt from transmission fees, and customers who bring their own reusable bags do not pay a fee either. Food carts and other prepared food suppliers must follow the same rules as restaurants: disposable plastic checkout bags are not allowed, but paper bags made from at least 40% recycled fiber can be provided free of charge. Sellers of fruits, vegetables and baked goods can provide paper or plastic bags for baked goods or products. There are no exceptions for plastic items labeled as “compostable,” “biodegradable,” or “made from plants.” These items cannot be composted in Portland (read why). In addition, they can have negative environmental impacts equal to or greater than those of conventional plastics and are unlikely to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean.

Disposable plastic checkout bags cannot be provided by retailers, grocery stores or restaurants. This includes any plastic bag smaller than 4 mil, even if it is labeled as “compostable,” “biodegradable,” or “made from plants.” This bill builds on the 17 existing local ordinances covering nearly 40 percent of Oregon residents already in place in Oregon to combat plastic pollution and contamination through plastic bag recycling. Reusable bags can be provided for a fee of 5 cents (or more) per bag. Reusable bags contain thick plastic (4 mil or more) or cloth bags. WIC voucher or benefit transfer eCard: Retail stores, grocery stores and restaurants can provide customers with a Women`s, Infant and Child (WIC) voucher or benefit transfer card with recycled paper checkout bags or reusable plastic cash register bags free of charge. The idea behind the Sustainable Shopping Initiative was to charge a five-cent fee on paper bags so that more people in Oregon would opt for reusable bags — and so we`re not just trading one disposable bag for another. If there is indeed a shortage of paper bags in Oregon, we should be working with grocery stores to promote reusable bags and other options for customers to checkout online or in-store, rather than backtracking and bringing back polluting single-use plastic bags. “The Association of Oregon Recyclers (AOR) supports House Bill 2509 to advance waste prevention and reduce the impact of plastic bags on Oregon`s recycling system,” said Ali Briggs-Ungerer, president of the Association of Oregon Recyclers.