Recycling Advocates’ Policy on Single-Use Bags

In November 2012, Recycling Advocates presented its single-use bag policy to the Portland City Council.  We supported Option 3 from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s October 2012 report to City Council: that the Council expand the plastic bag ban to include more retailers AND authorize a five-cent fee on the use of paper bags at the checkout line.

The full version of our long-standing policy on this topic is stated below.

We propose that:

1) Any single-use bag proposal must place a priority on setting and reaching waste reduction performance benchmarks.  Program mechanisms, such as fees or restrictions, should be directly tied to meeting reduction targets (specifically, the number of single-use bags distributed to consumers annually).

2) Any single-use bag proposal must also include recycling performance goals and benchmarks. While an important aspect of any single-use bag policy and program, recycling benchmarks are secondary to waste reduction.  All distributors of single-use bags should participate in educating consumers about single-use bag recycling and/or provide collection facilities for single-use bag recycling.

3) Any single-use bag proposal must address both plastic and paper checkout bags, since a dual approach will impact a greater waste stream and reduce the likelihood that consumers will simply substitute one single-use product for another.

4) Any single-use bag proposal must address grocery stores, as well as any other retail store that dispenses a significant number of single-use bags.  Initial requirements should be established based on the number of single-use bags distributed annually.

5) Any single-use bag proposal must address the impact of plastic bags on our recycling infrastructure (e.g., the impact on Material Recovery Facility equipment and on paper recycling processes).

6) Any single-use bag proposal must address the inappropriate disposal of plastic bags (i.e., their tendency to become litter and the related impact on marine and other ecosystems).

In terms of specific policy mechanisms to reach these goals, RA favors a tiered, phased-in, and inclusive approach.  Initial efforts should focus on large distributors, but waste reduction education should be targeted to all distributors, vendors, and consumers.  Program mechanisms should be tied to waste reduction and recycling performance, which should be tracked and reported on annually.  Goals should incorporate existing state and regional waste reduction and recycling goals.

Recycling Advocates proposes that any funds collected through a single-use bag program first be used to promote single-use bag waste reduction efforts, and second to reduce the negative impacts of single-use bags on recycling systems and the environment.