On Getting Rid of Plastic Bags

Cities Take Up the “Ban the Bag” Fight

Why new policies across the nation could mean the end of plastic bags.
posted Dec 19, 2011


Plastic Bag photo by Kate Ter Haar

Photo by Kate Ter Haar.

Environmental activists are reducing plastic waste pollution by tackling disposable plastic bags, one city at a time. About 20 U.S. cities and towns have passed disposable bag reduction laws, including San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Whether they impose a nominal fee for single-use, disposable bags, or ban them altogether, the laws encourage consumers to develop habits to replace disposable bags, particularly those made from plastic.

The most recent city to join the effort to ban the bag is Portland, Ore., which has banned single-use plastic bags at the checkouts of large retailers. The change was met with overwhelming support from most Portlanders, says Stiv Wilson of 5 Gyres Institute, who helped give out free reusable bags at grocery stores to ease the transition for shoppers on October 15, when the ban took effect.

The Portland ordinance, unanimously approved by Portland City Council, was the culmination of a four-year campaign by the Surfrider Foundation Portland Chapter, 5 Gyres Institute, and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. It reflects growing public concern about the environmental impact of disposable plastic.

“Plastic bags typically have a low recycling rate, seem to be littered often and have an easy alternative in reusable bags,” says Bill Hickman, coordinator of the Surfrider Foundation’s “Rise Above Plastics” program. “We hope that people understand some of the unintended consequences that go along with a disposable lifestyle.”

plastic bag still
The Majestic Plastic Bag
The epic journey of a plastic bag from its release into the wild to ultimate destination in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Disposable shopping bags are a significant source of plastic pollution in the oceans, where scientists have identified five huge gyres of “plastic soup.” “We’ve reached a tipping point where we can’t keep up with the stuff that’s in the ocean,” says Wilson, who has visited three of the gyres for research. “I’ve seen it firsthand, and it’s startling.”

Proponents of ban-the-bag ordinances have faced powerful industry-backed counter-campaigns. The American Chemistry Council, a trade group representing plastics manufacturers, defeated legislation for a statewide ban on single-use bags in California, and spent $1.4 million in Seattle in 2008 to defeat a referendum that would have imposed a 20-cent fee on disposable grocery bags. Plastic bag manufacturer and recycler Hilex Poly Company funded a campaign that defeated Oregon’s proposed statewide ban earlier this year.

Campaigners hope the success of municipal ordinances will motivate grocers to support statewide bans in the near future.

from:    http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/the-yes-breakthrough-15/cities-take-up-the-ban-the-bag-fight

Portland, OR Nixes Corporate Personhood

Portland City Council approves anti-war and corporate-personhood resolutions

Published: Thursday, January 12, 2012, 4:48 PM     Updated: Thursday, January 12, 2012, 4:51 PM
councilphoto.jpgBeth Slovic/The OregonianPortland City Council chambers on Thursday afternoon as commissioners and the mayor listened to testimony on two symbolic resolutions.
Portland City Council chambers overflowed this afternoon with supporters of two resolutions that grew out of the Occupy Wall Street and anti-war movements.Both are largely symbolic.

The first measure takes aim at military spending and responds to a call from local peace activists in October.

It establishes “that the City of Portland praises United States troops and their families, applauds the end of the Iraq War and supports the further drawdown of troops in Afghanistan with funds being redirected to domestic priorities.”

One element of controversy?

Although it was declared over by the federal government in December, the Iraq War hasn’t ended, a few people testified. American troops remain in the country.

A second resolution, piggybacking on efforts in Los Angeles and elsewhere, establishes “that corporations should not receive the same legal rights as natural persons do, that money is not speech and that independent expenditures should be regulated” in political campaigns. It takes aim at the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which allows unlimited corporate spending in elections.

Mayor Sam Adams, the sponsor for both measures, introduced the second rule by noting that not all corporations act the same. And, he said, “the world would be a better place,” if more corporations in the world behaved like Portland corporations.

“This is about what kind of electoral system we want to devise for ourselves,” Adams said.

Both resolutions passed 3-0. Now, according to the second resolution, the city attorney’s office will “determine the legality and process of referring an advisory vote to the citizens of Portland on the issue of corporate personhood, and refer their findings back to Council for further consideration.”

Two commissioners, Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman, were absent.

— Beth Slovic