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Starting in 2019, the city grocery stores and restaurants will no longer use plastic bags.

STAFF FILE PHOTO - Hillsboro grocery stores and restaurants will be barred from using plastic bags starting in 2019, under a new city ordinance by the Hillsboro City Counci.The Hillsboro City Council has approved a plan to ban plastic bags from grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses within the city.

On Tuesday, Nov. 20, the Council voted unanimously to ban plastic bags, saying the decision will be better for the community, the environment and local businesses. The bags will be phased out over the next year.

Starting in July 2019, plastic bags will no longer be allowed at checkouts at grocery stores or major retailers, but can be used in grocery produce aisles. Other businesses, such as department stores, bodegas and booths at the Hillsboro Farmers Market are also included in the ban, though laundry's and pet waste plastics are exempt from the ban.

Smaller businesses with fewer than 10 employees have until 2020 to stop using plastic bags.

"There will be many businesses impacted," said Peter Brandom, a senior project manager with the city overseeing rollout of the ban. "The city will also be impacted. We put on various events and permits various events all year. Whether or not the city sponsors it, that will fall under the rule, too. We didn't just want to point at others. We want to clean up our side of the street, too."

Brandom said the city will spend the next year educating local businesses about the change. "There may be a couple months of adjustments or consternation, but we've heard from Eugene and Corvallis (which have imposed similar bans) that businesses adapt."

Paper bags are more expensive than plastic bags. The ban gives small retailers and restaurants the option to impose a 5 cent fee on customers, which Brandom said will help recover costs of paper bags.

"We know it's a change and an impact," Brandom said. "We want to be a resource to them during the transition."

The ban is meant to encourage use of reusable bags. Banning plastic bags is believed to help protect the environment.

The ban was the first ever proposal by the city's Youth Advisory Council — a city committee made up of local teenagers. The group advises the city on issues that impact area youth.

The committee has researched the ban for the past two years and presented a formal proposal to city officials earlier this year. The council approved an initial reading of the ban on Nov. 6.

"We're trying to stress that there are ways to avoid the use of single use plastics," Brandom said. "The YAC wants to continue talking about that."

Brandom said the group will be looking to educate the public on avoiding other single-use items.

City Councilor Kyle Allen congratulated the Youth Advisory Council for taking up the issue, which he said was "very important to them and very important to our community."

"The consensus across the board has been supportive, with recyclers and businesses," Allen said. "(The YAC) really drafted a policy that we can be proud of."

Hillsboro had a few alternatives to an outright ban. Other cities, such as Washington, D.C., have imposed fines on customers who use plastic bags at stores, as a way to encourage people to use alternatives. Brandom said these options were considered, but YAC members wanted to keep Hillsboro's plans similar to nearby Portland and Forest Grove.

"We wanted to craft a policy that wasn't so different than what other local governments are doing, so as not be hugely problematic for businesses," Brandom said.

The proposed ban has been endorsed by the Northwest Grocer's Association and the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce, but is opposed by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a pro-plastics group funded by the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry.

"Everyone agrees that sustainability should influence how we use everyday products like grocery bags," said Keely Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the organization. "That's the thinking behind many supporters of Hillsboro's plastic bag proposal, who believe a ban would reduce our environmental footprint. However, landmark life cycle assessment studies suggest it might instead lead to unintended consequences."

Sullivan said that plastic bags have the smallest environmental impact than paper or canvas bags. She said consumers regularly re-use plastic bags for other uses.

Brandom said the goal of the ban isn't to cause harm, but to encourage people to use more re-usable options.

"When I was a kid, we got by without a lot of these single-use items," Brandom said. "We don't want to blanket everything and say all plastics are bad. We don't want to demonize plastics. That's not necessary or helpful, but there are impacts to using them and we want people to be conscious of that and think about that."

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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