The Portland City Council, led by outgoing Mayor Sam Adams, recently increased its regulation on the use of plastic bags within city limits. Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea, as we’ll now have to head north to Vancouver Washington if we want to keep a plastic bag full of marijuana on our door knob (now legal!). The original plastic bag ban in Portland was established in 2011 and only targeted the largest retail stores. Now all stores, regardless of size, as well as all restaurants and farmers markets have been given notice. The full scope of the intended regulation goes into effect October 2013.
Today the Oregonian reported that state legislators are seeking to push for a statewide ban on the bag. While some cities with similar bans require a fee to use paper bags, Portland graciously allows stores to choose whether or not to implement a fee on paper bag usage. Other stores offer a discount for bringing in your own reusable bag. The proposed state-wide legislation would, “require retailers to charge 5 cents for a paper bag.” (A bag tax).
Portlanders will be using fewer plastic bags than in years past, and this is a good thing. We need to reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources, and we need to see less plastic blowing down our streets. Paper is a better alternative to plastic. We can grow more trees, but plastic bags can be difficult to recycle.
But how might we relieve ourselves of plastic bag waste without government regulation of private business practices?
Would individuals choose to the use paper or cloth bags rather than plastic, if given the choice? Many do it every day with the choice as it stands. I propose that the burden be shared between the stores and the consumers, and the government should stay out of it. Many stores offer reusable bags for sale at a reasonable price, but continue to offer plastic bags as the default option. People use them because they are available and they’re cheap.
These are individual choices that we all need to make. We should allow space in civil society for positive choices made by individuals rather than government mandates on consumer purchases. Businesses can choose to charge for bags without being forced. Shoppers can choose to bring a bag or use paper.
Encourage alternatives and educate! Why should I care what type of bag I use if it doesn’t matter because the choice was already made by the government? We’re not making decisions to meet a challenge if there is no choice. Some think their neighbors are too dumb to make the right decision themselves, and so they must be forced to fall in line. Have we tried hard enough at the friendly art of persuasion? Can we provide another incentive to stop using plastic bags besides the force of law? Some people are simply unaware and ignorant, and would make a wiser choice if they had more information. By taking away the power of choice, government is perpetuating ignorance.
At least the plastic bag ban craze is happening at the local and state level. Check out this map. The last thing we need is a federal law which regulates how I transport my six-pack of Oregon micro-brew from the corner store to my home.