By Bonita Davis, Master Recycler and SE Resident

Beginning January 1, Oregonians welcomed a single-use plastic reduction policy designed to curb plastic waste. 

The new bag ban stipulates that groceries, retail stores and restaurants may no longer offer thin plastic bags at check-out, but may offer recycled paper bags with a minimum five cent charge. This pass-through charge also applies to the thicker reusable bags available at some check stands. 

The few exceptions include bags designed to hold bulk items such as small hardware or for sanitary or privacy purposes and certain specialty bags, such as garment bags and bags sold in packages like for food storage, garbage or pet waste. Those are exempt.

If you have concerns about the plastic litter along our roads and in our rivers and oceans, this new law is a big step in reducing plastic waste and pollution. Additionally, the manufacture of one-time use paper and plastic bags consumes energy, fossil fuels and valuable natural resources. 

Most carry-out bags are in use for only a few minutes before finding their way to landfills where they may remain for centuries. Only a small percentage are reused or recycled.

The bag ban follows the Portland Single-Use Plastics Reduction Policy that went into effect October 1, 2019. That single-use policy required that Portland businesses no longer automatically include plastic straws, stirrers, utensils or condiment packets (ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise, hot sauce, coffee creamer, jelly/jam and soy sauce) in a customer’s order. These items can be made available upon customer request. 

The law applies to all retail food and beverage establishments including sit-down and fast food restaurants, food carts, coffee/tea shops, grocery stores, convenience stores, hotels/motels, caterers and food service contractors. Plastic utensils may be placed in self-serve areas but plastic straws, stirrers and condiment packets cannot; they must be kept behind the counter.  

When ordering either online, take-out, drive-through or by delivery, a business must ask customers before supplying plastic utensils, stirrers, utensils or condiment packets. 

Plastics labeled as “compostable,” “biodegradable” or “made from plants” are also by request only. Businesses are encouraged to keep a supply of straws for people with disabilities who find it difficult or impossible to drink without a straw.

What can we all do to help reduce plastic waste and pollution? Get with the spirit of the new policies that encourage us to reduce and reuse. 

We can all make it a habit to bring along our reusable bags when shopping or plan for leftovers when dining out with our own take home container. Having a dining-on-the-go kit for our backpack, bike bag or car with our own utensils, cloth napkin and reusable mug could be a fun way to reduce plastic waste.

It may take some trial and error to figure out how to remember to bring your own bags when shopping, but once you find what works for you, you’re on your way to protecting wildlife and natural resources. That is well worth the effort!

Special thanks to the Master Recycler Program.