Oregon Looks at Plastic Bags as Agents of Pollution and Climate Change

Comparatively speaking, they may not be a huge contributor to climate change. But every kilogram of plastic that goes into making disposable plastic shopping bags results in a kilogram of carbon emissions that enter the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Add to this the many other negative environmental impacts of plastic bags and the ready availability of alternatives, and it’s easy to see why some policymakers have zeroed in on eliminating plastic bags as a simple and economically affective way to combat climate change and other pollution issues.

Several major cities in the US have experimented with plastic bag bans or other policies designed to reduce the use of disposable shopping bags. So far no state has gone as far as to limit plastic bag production at the level of the state legislature—but Oregon, along with other environmental innovators like California—may be among the first. State lawmakers in Oregon say they may be able to pass a ban on plastic bags in 2011, which would go into affect in 2012. As it stands now, the draft legislation would outlaw plastic bags at most major retail stores, while implementing a five cent fee on disposable paper bags. It’s uncertain yet if the ban will actually clear Oregon’s 2011 legislative session. But with widespread public support for the idea, legislators seem poised to make a push for it.

In Portland, Oregon’s largest city, local officials are considering a city-wide ban on plastic bags to address climate change, fossil fuel, and littering concerns. Portland Mayor Sam Adams and others see eliminating plastic bags as another small step in an overall strategy to continue Portland’s leadership on climate change issues and reduce the city’s dependence on oil. Mayor Adams’ office released a draft ordinance soon after a major “ban the bag” rally outside City Hall earlier this month, organized by Environment Oregon and the Surfrider Foundation which demonstrated public support for a bag ban in Portland.

In response to the possibility of a city ban, at least one major company has already decided not to wait. Fred Meyer announced a few days ago that its ten stores in Portland will eliminate plastic shopping bags by August first of this year. The city bag ban has also helped move along state legislative efforts and bring store chains on-board with the idea of a statewide disposable bag policy. Considering the likelihood that Portland will pass its bag ordinance next month, some retailers seem to have decided they would actually prefer a statewide policy that will be consistent in every city in Oregon.

Of course compared with coal-burning power plants and oil-guzzling cars, the manufacture of plastic bags is a relatively small cause of climate change. Yet disposable bags do have very real impact on the environment, and removing them from stores is an easy way to begin trimming away at the sources of carbon emissions. Replacing a coal-fired power plant with clean energy is a major undertaking that could take years to accomplish. Alternatives to disposable shopping bags, on the other hand, are easily accessible and available immediately.

Photo credit: Fantaz on Flickr