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Legislature's 'top priority' in the bag

Published on December 31, 2010 3:01AM

Last changed on January 28, 2011 8:38AM


If the Legislature has its way, Oregonians soon will be able to rest easy that one nettlesome issue will no longer burden the state.

Unemployment will still be above 10 percent. The budget deficit will still point north of $3 billion. And the education system from kindergarten through university will still teeter on the brink of collapse. But plastic checkout bags will be eliminated from most retail outlets, and Oregonians will be required to pony up a nickel for each paper bag used in their place or buy reusable bags to tote to and from the grocery store.

For years a few environmental groups have been trying to get plastic grocery bags outlawed. They aren't biodegradeable, and when carelessly tossed about they are an unsightly source of litter. When they make their way into streams and rivers and wash out to sea they become a hazard to ocean creatures.

To the rescue comes a proposal backed by state Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, and Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, which if passed would ban most plastic checkout bags by next November.

Big retailers support the plan. We suspect that's because the law would require -- yes, require -- that they charge their customers at least a nickel for paper bags. This is supposed to encourage people to buy those reusable, canvas bags to carry their groceries and other notions home. At the same time, it will put a fair amount of money back into the hands of the retailers. The cost of customer service will now fall to the bottom line by state mandate.

The paper interests support the measure. In as much as it will provide the Oregon paper industry with some much needed work, the bill might make a small dent in unemployment. At least it won't make it worse. But even supporters acknowledge that recyclable paper bags have a bigger carbon footprint than the plastic they will replace. Those paper jobs may be short-lived when green Oregonians, now doubly incentivized, switch to cloth bags.

Curiously, the proposal exempts pharmacies, restaurants and farmers' markets from the ban. That would seem to leave plenty of plastic bags available to make their way into ditches and waterways.

We're no fan of litter, and would be among the last to wish harm to ocean animals. We suspect, however, that this is a problem most Oregonians didn't know they had. But those are the easiest kind to solve.

With this out of the way, we're sure the Legislature will make quick work of the all-too-obvious problems facing the state.


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