Updated: Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 8:13 PM
Janie Har, The Oregonian Follow
Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian
From left to right in Portland City Council chambers are: Charlie Plybon, Ryan Cruse, Gregg Hayward, Matt Spencer. Each “bag monster” sports 500 bags, about the number an average American goes through in one year.
Facing five “bag monsters” and a sea of “ban the bag” T-shirts, Portland Mayor Sam Adams pledged Wednesday to eliminate ubiquitous slippery plastic bags from the city.
He declined to say when a prohibition on plastic grocery bags might start, but promised details in a draft ordinance to be released Friday.
Adams has talked for years about ridding the city of disposable shopping bags, but put it off, citing a down economy. His announcement Wednesday comes as state legislators in Salem say they have a deal with grocers for a statewide ban in 2011 that would take effect in 2012.
“We all know that single-use shopping bags are used for just a few minutes, but the negative impact on the environment lasts forever,” Adams said at a boisterous noon rally outside City Hall sponsored by Environment Oregon and the Portland chapter of Surfrider Foundation.
Minutes before he addressed the crowd, five “bag monsters” — people dressed up in plastic bag costumes — had been dancing with a furry sasquatch and an upright fish. They cheered the mayor’s anti-bag stance.
“We’re nearing the end of the beginning,” Adams said. “Onward!”
Environmental advocates would like a ban now from Oregon’s largest and greenest city. A dozen U.S. cities have outlawed plastic, and California is considering a statewide ban.
Grocers and other retailers would like one policy to deal with disposable bags statewide.
“There’s unrest with how slowly the wheels of the Legislature are turning,” said Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association. He has urged the mayor to give state lawmakers time next year to pass a statewide ban. The legislative session starts in January and should end in June.
“We think we have the momentum to make this work,” Gilliam said.
The grocers have signed on to proposed state legislation that would ban retailers from offering single-use plastic bags and would force a 5-cent charge for every paper bag. The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, and others.
A city ordinance that wouldn’t go into effect until July 2011 or January 2012, for example, would give lawmakers time to pass a statewide law. A city ordinance that goes into effect next January would not.
Brock Howell of Environment Oregon called city action the “first step to statewide policy.” His group has scheduled a media event Thursday in Hood River to highlight local support for a ban on plastic bags.
The American Chemistry Council, a trade group that represents the bulk of plastic bag makers, urges more recycling by consumers instead of a ban.
But environmental advocates say recycling plastic is futile and expensive. Only 5 percent of the 100 billion bags used by Americans every year are recycled. The rest end up in landfills or in waterways, they say, killing birds and marine mammals.
On Wednesday, advocates in teal T-shirts presented more than 6,000 signatures to the City Council, along with a letter of support signed by 70 local businesses and neighborhood groups.
Stiv Wilson, a former Surfrider chairman, said he doubts a plastic bag ban will burden everyday Portlanders.
“This really isn’t that big a deal,” he said. “This is not groundbreaking environmental policy.”
– Janie Har