This winter, the city of Manzanita became the fifth city in the state and the first on the Oregon Coast to ban single-use plastic carryout bags. The banning ordinance, passed by a unanimous vote of the Manzanita City Council, was an effort to reduce plastic debris on beaches and in the Pacific Ocean.
In its September 5 vote, Manzanita followed Portland’s similar ban in 2011, Corvallis’s 2012 ban, Eugene’s ban in 2013 and McMinville’s ban in 2017.
Speaking about the matter Linda Kozlowki, Manzanita City Council President said, “As the first coastal community in Oregon to ban single-use plastic bags, Manzanita is a leader, taking action on an issue important to its residents that will inspire other coastal communities impacted by plastic pollution.”
Opponents of single-use bags admit they offer short-term convenience, but note that after carrying goods from store to home, they last in the environment virtually forever, never fully degrading. The bags don’t begin to decompose for 700 years and plastic is so durable that the EPA say, “every bit of plastic ever made still exists.”
Single-use bags are largely composed of polyethylene, a substance derived from natural gas and petroleum, both of which are linked to climate change. Cities and municipalities who ban these bags cite their long-term cost to the environment, including their contribution to warming, the litter they add to streets, parks and trees and the damage they do to ocean life.
Plastics pollution has a direct and deadly effect on ocean wildlife, says the Center for Biological Diversity. “Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. Endangered wildlife like Hawaiian monk seals and Pacific loggerhead sea turtles are among nearly 300 species that eat and get caught in plastic litter.”
In 2008, an Ocean Conservancy study showed plastic bags as the second most common form of ocean litter. Ocean plastics are estimated to kill a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year.
One year after its 2011 ban, the City of Portland noted that reusable checkout bag use had increased 304% and highly recycled paper checkout bag use had increased 491%.
In banning plastic bags, the city of Manzanita followed 17 communities in the state of Washington, including Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Edmonds, Ellensburg, Friday Harbor, Kirkland, Lacey, Mukitlteo, Olympia, Port Townsend, Quil Ceda Village, San Juan County, Seattle, Shoreline, Tacoma, Thurston County and Tumwater. In 2014, California became the first state to enact legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at large retail stores.
More than forty countries have also banned, partly banned or taxed the bags, including China, France, Rwanda and Italy. In 2017, Kenya joined the list with the world’s toughest punishments so far; producing, selling or even using single-use bags will result in up to four years imprisonment or fines of $40,000.
In Salem, thousands of single-use plastic bags are still given out at grocery and drugstore retailers, including Fred Meyer, Winco and Roth’s every day.
Only Costco, Natural Grocers and LifeSource do not distribute them. Roth’s and LifeSource offer 5 cents credit for customers who bring their own reusable or reused bags.
With estimates that less than 3% of bags are ever properly recycled (which in our area is in the bins at the front of grocery stores) the resulting trash causes problems, including impeding the recycling efforts of Garten Services, the Salem agency that recycles cans, bottles and paper.
“Plastic bags have consistently been a problem when placed in mixed recycling,” says Marion County’s Jolene Kelley. “They have remained a top contaminator of recycling material, and the county has encouraged alternate recycling methods for many years.”
Although Marion County actively encourages people to use reusable shopping bags, Kelley notes that any county ban on single-use plastic bags would only affect the unincorporated areas outside of city limits. Since by far, most grocery stores and other retail establishments using plastic bags are located within city limits, a county ordinance would have virtually no effect on Salem usage.
City of Salem City Manager Steve Powers says that any potential single-use plastic bag regulation would be a matter of city policy set by City Council, not city staff. Powers adds, “City Council has not discussed banning or imposing a fee to discourage use of polypropylene plastic bags.”
Over at the coast, the City of Manzanita granted its stores and retailers a 60-day grace period after the September vote so everyone could adjust to the no-bag ordinance and change over.
On November 5, 2017, Manzanita’s enforcement went into effect.