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Sandy, Estacada communities responds to single-use plastic bag limitations

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Reusable bags are becoming more of a staple at the Sandy Grocery Outlet. When the Oregon Legislature's Sustainable Shopping Initiative went into effect Jan. 1, grocery store consumers and take-out frequenters were weary at first. According to business owners in the Sandy area, many shoppers started off annoyed by the change to paper or having to bring their own reusable bags.

But, like with most things, having to do something new formed a habit.

"I think there was a period of getting used to things," said Sandy Grocery Outlet owner Dillon Shaffer. "We've remained pretty neutral on the change. If anything, I think it's just helping the environment."

The new law prohibits retail stores and restaurants from providing single-use plastic checkout bags. Stores must charge for paper bags and reusable plastic bags, although restaurants can provide paper bags at no charge.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's website notes that the goals of the initiative include reducing the amount of plastic in landfills and oceans.

"When plastic bags end up in recycling bins, they can contaminate the recycling stream and endanger the safety of workers who must untangle them from recycling equipment. This is also a positive first step towards addressing the large amount of plastic debris in the oceans, which threatens Oregon's marine wildlife," the website states.

Changes in store

Before the ban, at Sandy's Grocery Outlet you had the regular dance of customers keeping reusable bags in their car, forgetting said bags in their cars when shopping, then begrudgingly using a plastic or paper bag anyway. And some people just downright liked plastic because they found ways to reuse those bags. Now, the change is that when you forget your reusable bags, your only choice — besides carrying your groceries sans conveyance — is a paper bag.

According to Shaffer though, the contention over the bag ban dissipated in his store fairly quickly.

Even before Jan. 1, customers of the Grocery Outlet on Highway 26 had access to store-branded reusable bags. Now more people are just making an effort to use them.

"At first it was definitely a transition," Shaffer said. "But we'll roll with the punches. I don't really see negatives to (the ban). We've seen a lot of cool bags out there. I'm all for it. Anything we can do to help the environment."

He added that in terms of costs to the store, "I'm not seeing any financial help or hurt" from the change.

At Harvest Market in Estacada, owner Dan Backwell noted that frustrated customers have been "a vocal minority."

"It makes it a little easier that it's the entire state. It's not just the country or within city limits. There's a lot of frustration, but a lot of it got out before New Years," he said.

He added that the most difficult part of the transition for the store was running out of reusable bags.

"Our biggest challenge has been trying to get a supply of those," he said.

When the store first ran out of the reusable bags, they received a second shipment of them that were gone within a day.

Backwell has noticed several changes in customer behavior since the initiative went into effect.

"It's interesting seeing the conscious decision making of people. (They'll ask themselves) 'Do I really need a bag?'" he said. "Some will take their cart with groceries out to their car if they've forgotten their bags."

Across the street, many customers have been hesitant to purchase bags at Estacada Hi School Pharmacy.

"(Customers) don't like paying for it," said assistant store manager Jan Patterson. "Some people bring their own bags, some don't."

She noted that one potential reason for this is a lack of awareness for where the funds from the bag purchases go. The Department of Environmental Quality's website states that businesses keep the fee so they can recover the costs of providing reusable bags.

"It's gone to most people not using one. More people don't use bags," Patterson said.

Meanwhile, Estacada True Value owner Steven Davis noted that the bag ban has not had a significant impact on his customers.

"Overall, it's been a non-issue for us. This industry is probably less affected than groceries. Few and far between, customers have had something negative to say. We haven't had to make any huge adjustments to what we do," he said.

Prior to the ban, True Value customers often didn't use bags.

"We would always offer bags and people said 'No thank you.' Most of our customers don't even bring a bag in. It lends itself to what we sell," he said, noting that employees will often carry larger purchases out of the store for customers.

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Tollgate Inn Restaurant owner utilizes bag ban to his advantage to market himself with stamps on his paper to-go bags. Serving up differences in opinion

While the bag ban has simply required store customers to become more self-sufficient in remembering their own bags, at Sandy and Estacada eateries, the effect has produced a buffet of opinions.

Sandy's Brady's Burgers and Brats owner Chris Corbin considers himself ahead of the curve.

Corbin noted that the habit of choosing paper over plastic began when he opened his restaurant a little over a year ago. Specializing in on-site made bratwursts and burgers, Brady's has always sent every customer packing with their meal wrapped in a paper bag — whether it was to dine in or take out.

"I most definitely saw (this ban) on the horizon when I was opening Brady's," Corbin said. "When I started, I saw I had a choice of paper or plastic, (and) Sandy being a logging community, I wanted to use as much paper as I could. Paper was always a cognitive choice."

Nowadays, Corbin said their take-out ways haven't changed, but their dining in tactics have. Still very much in the green, Corbin and his staff now serve burgers and brats to dine-in customers in reusable plastic boats with paper liners.

"I have an intrinsic dislike for people telling me what to do," Corbin explained. "That said, I do agree with the bag ban. We have a major problem in our ocean and other places. I've always thought any business in Oregon should be leading the way (in environmental change) instead of following. We've only got one planet, so we've got to keep it healthy."

Estacada's Country Restaurant owner Linda Parsons noted that plastic bags were more convenient for packaging to-go orders.

"Plastic is easier to deal with as far as to-go things. The (paper bags) are too big. It's awkward to fit food into a paper bag," she said, adding that she's had one customer who brought in a reusable bag.

Parsons described the bag ban as "confusing, but we'll get used to it."

"I have some bags in my car. I'm catching onto it," she said. "I always reused regular bags before, and boxes when I'm shopping for the restaurant."

Debra Bufton, executive director of the Estacada Area Food Bank, appreciates seeing an increase of reusable bags.

"At the food bank, we've almost never had people bring their own bags, but more and more people are bringing their own," she said. "It's gotten me to remember my reusable bags. It's been a boon for that."

"Awareness about reusing bags has increased. It's entering their consciousness. People are making conscious choices about bag use," Backwell added.

Similar to Corbin, Ron Lesowski, owner of the Tollgate Inn Restaurant and Bakery, was exploring alternatives to plastic products far before it was required.

"We virtually have no plastic at this point," Lesowski said. "We may not be the best around, but we do a pretty good job."

Before bags, Lesowski was testing the viability of alternative straws. Then came the compostable and more earth-friendly take out containers. Now he's more than happy to have made the switch to paper bags for those taking leftovers home or dining out.

He also added that paper offers him a chance to market himself more than plastic did. Nowadays, when he bags up a customer's meal, he can stamp the bag with his logo first, making the new culinary conveyances a benefit to not only the environment but his business.

Though Lesowski did admit that "finding the right paper bag" to fit their containers has been a challenge, he said "we haven't seen any downsides to (the ban)."

"Does it cost us a little more — yes, but overall we feel a little bit better about the environment," Lesowski said. "This is probably one of the only big bills in the last 10 years I can really get behind, for the sake of my kids' and grandkids' futures. Nobody's really complaining here. We're not much worse for the wear, and the environment is that much better off. Plus, everyone gets more involved in buying alternative materials, the price will go down too."

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