Behavioral Change Needed for Bag Ban to Succeed
August 9, 2012 by
The eight month old plastic bag ban in the city of Portland, Oregon has had an unintentional side effect. Customers have switched over to paper carry bags. As a result the use of paper bags has gone up with Portland grocers reporting a 500% increase.
Before the ban came into effect, it was calculated that Oregonians used and dispensed an astounding 1.7 billion one-use plastic bags every year – an estimated 444 bags each, for every person in Oregon.
The October 15th ordinance that ordered a ban on one-use plastic bags at large grocery stores and retailers with pharmacies drove up paper bag sales. Now environmentalists and grocers have called for a pass through fee of 5 cents on every paper bag given out.
Last year, riding on the broad support from environmentalists, city staff and local businesses, the city council unanimously voted for the ordinance, prohibiting the distribution of one-use plastic bags by certain stores. If you look at the exercise from a waste reduction perspective, the ban on one-use plastic use enacted in Portland is a success. In the past six months, grocery stores in Portland saved the environment from 50 million plastic bags.
Bag Ban Ordinance Falls Short of Encouraging Seed Paper
Though the ordinance is a good first step they are certain places where it falters. For example, the ban only applies to large grocers and pharmacy containing retailers. The ordinance also does not address the use of paper bags, consequently affecting consumers, wholesale reusable bags businesses and the environment. San Francisco has already addressed this issue has extended the ban on using plastic single use bags to all retailers. It also requires that paper carry bags be charged.
Bag Ban Is Changing Habits
The question has never been plastic or paper. Changing a customer’s single use habit is the important thing. Interestingly, Washington DC has seen an 80 drop in paper bag usage after businesses started charging 5 cents for each bag with 78 of them reporting that it didn’t affect their business in any way. Bag laws have been brought into effect by many local governments. There have been no riots or protests and compliance with the law has not been an issue either. People have adapted just like they always have.