So, here in Portland, local Fred Meyer stores (I believe a total of ten) banned plastic toss-away bags as of August 1st. This happened, according to a Kroger/Fred Meyer news release (pdf), because of a new mess of laws that may go into affect here in Portland, Oregon that will ban bags in some places (not all).
In July, Portland Mayor Sam Adams introduced a draft ordinance that asks for a citywide plastic bag ban from some stores and would require stores to charge five cents for paper bags.
Personally, I think Fred Meyer stores banned bags early so that people would make a fuss before any regulations are officially passed, thereby saving the store from having to ban plastic bags. Although the company admits that plastic bags cause waste, excess trash and use up non-renewable resources, they also make it clear that paper bags cost more (hint, grocery prices could go up people).
They also note that plastic bags are easier and according to them, being recycled at a decent rate… (they’re not BTW).
“Really, recycling single-use plastic bags is easy. Last year at Fred Meyer stores alone, we recycled 641,408 tons of these plastic bags and film, most brought in by Customers to the recycling bins in our lobby.“
People at Facebook seem on board with the ban. Comments at Oregon Live, aren’t so supportive of the ban. It doesn’t really matter what people think though, as of right now, if you shop at a Fred Meyer store in PDX, you have a choice of paper or cheap, low-life reusable Fred Meyer bags.
Of course smart eco-minded folks will go with the best choice, which would be to use your own longer-life recycled or organic reusable bags.
Comparing paper to plastic isn’t that phenomenal – both create a negative eco-impact. For example, stats show that:
- In 1999, 14 million trees were cut to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans that year alone.
- Paper sacks generate 70% more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
- It takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper. But recycling rates of either type of disposable bag are extremely low, with only 10 to 15% of paper bags and 1 to 3% of plastic bags being recycled, according to the Wall Street Journal.
- Of course paper won’t biodegrade as well as some might like to believe. Food doesn’t even break down in landfills, paper sure as heck won’t.
Since the ban went into affect I’ve been paying close attention to store habits (I live right next to, and shop at, two different Fred Meyer stores regularly). Here’s what I’ve seen…
1. It doesn’t appear that more people are using reusable bags. I still usually feel like one of the only people in the store lugging my own bags around. Trust me, I’ve been using reusable bags for years and always watch to see if other people are using them to. Most aren’t.
2. Store employees still seem spooked by reusable bags. It’s a common occurance at conventional stores to get rolled eyes or rude comments about my reusable bags. Some Fred Meyer employees are cool about my reusable bags and seem to know how to load them and always give me the $ off discount. Other employees STILL look at me like I’m nuts and complain about having to bag my stuff in a cloth bag. More than once an employee has left my cloth produce bags out of the bags altogether and I have to make a trip back to the store – SO lame. If Fred Meyer is going to “be on board” with reusable bags, the least they could do is train employees to not treat users like freaks. I tend to try and go to the same clerks (who are nice) all the time to avoid this issue.
3. I’ve spoken with a number of Fred Meyer employees who note, “People aren’t using more reusable bags, they’re just asking for double and triple bagging using paper bags.” Is using double the paper much better than using plastic? No it’s not.
So, overall yeah I think a ban on toss away bags is good. But, I’m not sure just banning plastic is the best. In fact, maybe just banning paper would be better in this respect, because one plastic bag seems less wasteful than 2 or 3 paper bags.
I think stores should make reusable bags better, not just offer those cheap quality reusable bags that don’t last long and train employees to be better reusable bag advocates. I also think we need a better, less throw away mentality overall. Honestly, in this society, a ban doesn’t seem to help. I think people on board will be on board and the people who hate it will use paper – nothing much changes without a total society overhaul of ideals.
What do you think? Are you in PDX – or somewhere else that has banned plastic bags? Is it a good idea, a wasted battle or something in-between?
[image © Sophia Winters]