Grocery store managers react to proposed bag ban

(Photo by Madeline Shannon) Christina Venter, a cashier at Grocery Outlet in Newport, bags up a customer’s groceries in the store’s single-use plastic bags. Grocery Outlet is one grocery store in the city that would see an effect on the use of plastic bags if an ordinance regulating such single-use plastic items were passed in the city.

NEWPORT — After a request to ban single-use plastic bags came before the Newport City Council last week, many in the community voiced support for such regulations, with a few coming out against the effort.

At least one grocery store manager in the city, however, would be happy to see something like a plastic bag ban here.

“I think it’s a great idea if there’s no strings attached,” said Craig Crook, owner and manager of Grocery Outlet in Newport. “Plastic is a mess. It’s all over the place.”

The request to regulate plastic bags last came before the city council several years ago, eventually being put to the voters in 2013 in the form of a bag ban, when it was rejected 1,486 to 1,112. In the years since that ballot measure, however, China stopped importing garbage scraps from the United States, which often included plastic items like single-use bags.

This new development was one reason representatives of the Surfrider Foundation came to the city council again Jan. 22 to ask them to consider an ordinance regulating single-use plastic bags, something many other cities in Oregon passed in recent years. Some cities opted for an outright ban with no fee attached, while others imposed a pass-through fee on single-use plastic bags as part of their ban, according to industry figures.

“The pass-through fee offsets the cost of going from plastic to paper,” said Shawn Miller, who who works in government affairs at the Northwest Grocery Association. “It eases the cost shift, therefore grocers don’t have to raise the cost of groceries.”

The association doesn’t advocate for a plastic bag ban on its own, Miller added.

“We don’t support a plastic bag ban on its own without the fee,” he said. “It just transfers the single use from plastic to paper bags.”

Many cities, including Milwaukee, Salem, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego, Eugene and Ashland passed ordinances instituting plastic bag bans paired with pass-through fees of anywhere from five to 10 cents, something the Northwest Grocery Association gets behind, according to Miller. Changing consumer behavior is a top priority for the organization, which has been involved in instituting plastic bag bans in communities throughout Oregon, Washington and California. According to Miller, the plastic bag ban in other communities in which the NWA was involved were met with support from grocers and customers in those cities.

“The ban on plastic bags with a pass-through fee has been well-received,” Miller said. “We haven’t seen any negative pushback. People are receptive to using reusable bags and the pass-through fee is a reminder to use reusable bags.”

Changing consumer behavior is a facet of these ordinances, urging people to remember to have grocery bags in the car when they go shopping.

“That policy works,” Miller said. “It’s gotten a good response from those communities.”

At least one grocer here in Newport would like to see that kind of change happen here.

“It’s just irresponsible, people and their trash,” said Crook. “You see them up and down in Depoe Bay, especially our yellow bags. They don’t decompose, or it takes thousands of years.”

Crook’s store sells reusable plastic bags, and he sees many of his customers bring in reusable bags already on their own.

“About 35 to 40 percent of our customers do,” he said. “A good percentage of people bring in reusable bags these days.”

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