Eugene, Oregon Working to Encourage Reusable Shopping Bags
Plastic bags are not very popular, so a recent move to ban them has not caused much of a stir. The ban actually has found support from organizations that typically do not back plastic bag bans: grocers. More than 60 local businesses that range from mom-and-pop shops to major chains in the Eugene area have announced their support of the ban. There is still some work to be done, but in the best-case scenario, the folks of Eugene can be free from plastic bags in as little as 6 months.
Support from Unexpected Places
Sundance Natural Foods, an independent grocery store is very supportive of the ban even though plastic bags have never been used in the store, which opened in 1971. Shoppers at Sundance Natural Foods have the option of carrying their goods home in paper bags provided by the store, or they can bring reusable grocery bags, as many of their shoppers opt to do. Gavin McComas, the owner of Sundance Natural Foods, estimates that 60-70% of his customers bring their own reusable bags. It is not just local stores supporting the cause. The National Grocery Association which represents major chains, such as Fred Meyer and Safeway, has also thrown its support behind the ban.
The Drawbacks of Recycling
The story in Eugene is similar to the stories that have been told in other cities: yes, plastic bags can be recycled, but due to the inconvenience most people opt to toss their disposable bags in the trash rather than recycle them. In most municipalities plastic bags are not part of curbside pickup recycling efforts. This forces people to bring bags to a drop-off location, either at a recycling center or at a store that offers plastic bag recycling. Target and Walmart, as well as numerous other retailers place bins near the front of their stores to collect plastic bags for recycling. The success of this system hinges on shoppers remembering to bring their no-longer useful bags to drop off when they make their way to the store. This practice begs the question why not just bring reusable shopping bags when going to the store instead of exchanging your old disposable plastic bags for new ones? If you are going to carry bags to the store it makes more sense to bring reusable bags that you can use to carry your groceries home and bring back with you the next time you do your shopping.
Plastic bags can be a hassle to recycle because they easily become entangled in the machinery used to sort them, so workers must navigate the machinery and cut the tangled bags out to get the equipment up and running again. Aside from unnecessary wear and tear on the machines and downtime while the bags are removed, this process can also be dangerous to the workers who have to use knives to cut the bags away. A lot of time, money, and effort goes into recycling disposable bags. Reusable bags are more cost-effective; they may cost more money upfront, but the durable design ensures the bag will pay for itself in no time. Also, reusable bags don’t have a negative impact on the environment like plastic bags do, making them a better choice for both your wallet and the environment.
Hurdles Before the Ban is Official
The use of plastic bags in restaurants has been a common stumbling block for many of the cities and towns with or working on plastic bag bans. The issue is maintaining the ability to transport food in a clean and safe manner. Many people feel that while reusable bags are great, they do not belong in restaurants because they can contaminate counters or work surfaces. For instance, if a customer brings a soiled reusable bag to pick up their takeout and that bag is set on a counter bacteria from that bag could transfer to the counter where it may be picked up by reusable bags brought in by later customers. This issue has been such a holdup that some politicians have opted to exclude restaurants from the reaches of their ban. Eugene’s draft applies to restaurants that provide and prepare food for public consumption with an exemption that would apply to food providers for the purpose of safeguarding public health and safety during the transportation of hot take-out foods. Lawmakers are working to nail down exactly whether the ban will apply just to fast food restaurants or all restaurants.Tagged