Eugene does it.
Even the city of Brownsville, Texas — part of Senator Ted Cruz’s district and considered one of the poorest municipalities in the country, does it.
So when is Salem going to ban the bag?
Last year, in the fight against the blight of plastic bags, McMinnville became the sixth Oregon city to ban stores from stuffing products in disposable plastic bags. The ‘Bag It Better’ campaign was spearheaded by Zero Waste McMinnville, and after a short time, it won unanimous support from the McMinnville city council.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, even Rwanda is more environmentally responsible than Salem when it comes to the ubiquitous plastic bag. Rwanda’s ban, adopted in 2008, is one of the strictest in the world. They don’t even allow food items in the grocery to be wrapped, except for frozen meat and fish. Stores violating the ban face heavy fines and can even be shut down, and bag smugglers at the border can receive up to six months in jail.
The ban in Rwanda is not uncommon. The Times reports that 15 countries in Africa have some sort of ban. They are among 40 nations around the world, including China, France, India and Italy. In 2015, Hawaii became the first U.S. state to ban plastic bags. California passed a ban in 2014, but “Big Plastic” had the law referred to voters. Fortunately, a year ago Californians passed Proposition 67 by a strong majority, putting the statewide ban back in place.
If so many nations, states and Oregon cities can do it, why can’t Salem?
According to the Wall Street Journal, worldwide people use approximately 100 billion plastic bags a year, enough to circle the planet five times. Those bags are made from polypropylene which is made from natural gas and petroleum. The extraction of these fossil fuels and the production of the bags creates greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. To produce 14 bags takes the equivalent energy to drive a car one mile. Depending on their composition, plastic bags never really degrade — they just break down into tiny pieces that pollute our soil and water. Plastic bags are harmful to wildlife when they are mistaken for food by animals, birds and marine life. Plastic bags are not “free” — they cost 3-5 cents, and that cost is added to the cost of products. Plastic bags cannot be recycled in our curbside recycling bins — they can only be returned to some grocery stores, which is not convenient for most people, so they end up in the trash. That means that in Polk County they end up in a landfill, and in Marion County they are burned in the Covanta Marion incinerator in Brooks, resulting in CO2 and toxic emissions and a toxic ash that still has to be hauled to a landfill.
Convinced there might be a better way, yet?
Most of the municipal bans in Oregon have been in place for years. Portland passed the first ban in 2011, followed a year later by Eugene and Corvallis. Most of these cities require a charge for paper bags (5¢ is typical) to discourage their use and encourage folks to use reusable bags. Major retailers like Fred Meyer, Safeway, Walmart and Target have all accepted the bans elsewhere in Oregon and have learned to work with them. They could easily do that here too.
So let’s just do it. Let’s make 2018 the year that Salem joins other forward-thinking cities, states and nations to bag it better.