Newport City Councilors, on a 5 to 2 vote, approved moving toward a ban on single use plastic grocery store bags, citing complaints that the bags wind up in the ocean, rivers, blowing down the street, clog storm drains and recycling machinery and fills up our landfills.
The Surfrider Foundation presented a petition signed by several hundred people supporting the ban. Joe Gilliam from the Oregon Grocers Association asked the council to consider a ban option that would require stores, after the plastic ban takes effect, to charge a deposit on paper bags so that shoppers would have a choice whether to continue to use paper bags or switch to totally reusable bags made of either long-lived plastic or cloth fiber. That way he said the cost of dropping plastic bags would be softened assuming a consumer choice.
But a Surfrider spokesman said paper bags are not really reusable as a practical matter and besides, they fall apart in the rain. They said a fee imposed on those who don’t use a reusable bag is the best way to go. City Councilor Dean Sawyer said he doesn’t want to force low income people who walk to the grocery stores to be penalized with fees or deposits. He said he’d like to find a way to get reusable bags into the hands of those who need them most.
Councilor David Allen said despite the outpouring of support for banning plastic bags in a packed city council chambers, he wanted the issue to go to a non-binding vote of the people of Newport to gather broader based opinions from throughout the community. Mayor Mark McConnell said the issue has been before the public for at least two years and that holding an election, with all the time, energy and campaign spending, would be a waste of time. Councilor Lon Brusselback said he knows that banning the bag is the right thing to do and the council should just do it. Councilor Jeff Bertuleit said he gets a 5-cent rebate for each reusable bag he carries out to his car. He said he doesn’t like telling stores what to do beyond a simple ban on plastic.
In the end the motion was made to move forward on a plastic bag ban with the issue of a fee or deposit on paper begs to be reviewed by the city attorney. The city attorney did not attend the council meeting. The vote to move forward with a “ban the bag” ordinance passed on a 5 to 2 vote with councilors David Allen and Jeff Bertuleit voting no. Based on the review period, it will take a month or two to develop a new city ordinance that bans plastic bags and whether a fee or deposit would be appropriate for those who forget their reusable bags or who are willing to pay a little extra for paper bags.