Lake Oswego considers plastic bag ban
Lake Oswego residents got a chance to weigh in on a proposed plastic bag ban at an informational meeting last week.
The City Council initially considered the idea at its Sept. 4 meeting and is scheduled to give feedback on options for the proposed ordinance next month.
As part of that process, City Sustainability and Management Analyst Jenny Slepian convened a panel of local experts, including Jason Jordan, the general manager at Lake Oswego's waste hauler Republic Services; and Dave Claugus, manager of Pioneer Recycling, which processes all of Lake Oswego's raw recycled material.
Joining them were Charlie Plybon, policy manager at the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group that has worked with a number of other cities to implement plastic bag bans; and Shawn Miller, a representative of the Northwest Grocery Association. Each panelist gave a brief presentation and then turned the floor over to the audience for questions.
Nobody in the audience voiced opposition to the ban, Plybon told The Review, but there were a number of questions about the types of bags that would be banned and which businesses would be covered by the ordinance.
"Would it apply to all stores? A subset of stores? Are all plastic bags created equal? Is it just plastic bags we're looking at, or should we be looking broader? Those were generally the things that I heard," Plybon said.
According to Slepian, the primary target of the ban would be plastic to-go grocery bags, the kind used at the checkout stand. Municipal bans typically exempt other types of plastic bags, such as produce bags from the fruit and vegetable aisles and Ziploc bags that consumers purchase for use at home.
The ban has the support of the Northwest Grocery Association, Slepian said, which includes Albertsons and Safeway. The ordinance could also apply to small retailers, restaurants or City venues like the farmers market, she said, although the precise details are still up in the air. The ban would likely be coupled with a small per-bag fee on paper bags.
"The idea really isn't that we move from one single-use bag to another," Slepian said. "Ideally, what we want is that people will get more accustomed to using reusable bags regardless of what type of shopping they're doing."
The removal of plastic bags will make a big difference for local recyclers, Slepian said. Pioneer Recycling has to sort through all of Lake Oswego's mixed-use recycled material and pull out all of the items that are incorrectly recycled, she said, including plastic bags, which tend to be very time-consuming to remove.
"They have to deal with a lot of plastic bags all the time," she said. "When the plastic bags jam up their machinery, they have to shut everything down. And they do that at least once a day, so they lose a lot of time."
Plybon and Slepian said that a number of questions also focused on broader policies relating to plastic use and waste management, and some residents asked about other ways to cut down on their plastic waste.
"Beyond the environment, what are the other waste management issues with plastic? People were really interested in that," Plybon said. "The China (crackdown policy) was a common theme — in light of the fact that we can't recycle a lot of plastics right now, what does that mean for us as consumers, and how should we be managing that?"
According to Plybon, a number of Oregon cities — including Portland — banned plastic bags during what he characterizes as a "first wave" of ordinances in Oregon from 2007 to 2012. The rate of adoption tapered off after that, he said, but it's been growing again since 2016.
"This is what I like to call the second coming of plastic bag (ban) movements," he said. "You had a coastal community, Manzanita, pop up with a ban, and now a bunch of cities in the county of Tillamook are looking at bans. So we're starting to ramp back up again in Oregon."
In late August, Milwaukie became the first city in Clackamas County to ban the use of plastic bags in grocery-store checkout aisles. Lake Oswego's City Council is scheduled to review a list of options for its proposed ordinance on Oct. 16, but any actual ban is a ways off — the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce is planning to poll its members about their plastic bag usage, Slepian said, and the City will want more data before proceeding.
The issue is also likely to come up at another meeting on Sept. 28, when the Lake Oswego Sustainablity Advisory Board plans to put on a free screening of Bag It, a movie about where discarded plastic bags often end up. The movie will start at 6 p.m. at the Adult Community Center (505 G Ave).
Most ban ordinances usually include a six-month period before they go into effect, Slepian said, in order to give retailers time to use up their existing stock of plastic bags and begin educating their customers about the change. Smaller retailers are sometimes granted an additional six months before the ordinance takes effect for them.