Bag Ends: Hood River law reducing plastic takes effect Wednesday

REUSEABLE cloth bags are the increasing choice of customers such as Erin Erickson, with Rosauers clerk Sam Curtis, as familiar plastic bags are phased out of Hood River stores.

“Paper or plastic?” is now an obsolete phrase at Hood River’s largest stores.

And later this year, it will be obsolete at all Hood River stores.

Ordinance 2030, passed Dec. 12, 2016, by city council, takes effect today. It bans stores from providing plastic single use bags at the checkout — starting with Rosauers, Walmart and Safeway.

Some plastic bags are still allowed — see sidebar. Stores must charge a nickel for a standard two-foot-tall “barrel” bag made of paper.

“Very smooth,” is how Andy Strickland, Hood River Safeway director, describes the transition. “Customers know it’s coming, things have gone smooth, mostly.” His store, and Rosauers and Walgreen’s, have already phased out the checkout plastic bags.

The stores maintain recycling programs for clean plastic bags of all types.

“We’re just educating the customer and getting them used to the fact that it’s going away and have had the opportunity to tell them you will have to pay for the paper bag,” said Steve Morgan, Hood River Rosauers, where the bags went away a month ago.

“It’s been smooth,” said Melissa Disch, Walmart store manager. The store used plastic bags until 8 p.m. Tuesday and switched to barrel bags. The few remaining plastic ones will be recycled.

The ordinance’s stated purpose is “to reduce the amount of environmental pollution by a particularly pernicious form of litter — the single-use plastic bag — and to reduce the amount of raw material and energy consumed in the manufacture and disposal of single-use plastic and craft paper bags for retail shopping; to reduce plastic bag contamination of yard debris, household compost, waste paper recycling and other waste recovery streams and thereby reduce the damage to sorting and processing machinery that impedes resource recovery and recycling; to reduce the significant amounts of raw material and energy used in the manufacture, waste collection, and disposal of single-use plastic and paper craft bags that people obtain from retail establishments for day-to-day retail shopping; and to encourage the use of reusable bags by consumers for all day-to-day retail shopping.”

Rosauers phased out plastic bags three weeks ago, to the surprise of many customers.

Effective today, the three largest grocery stores in the city of Hood River will no longer provide single-use plastic bags at checkout for merchandise to take home.

Patrons are urged to carry reusable bags to bring home groceries and other merchandise.

Stores are required by ordinance to offer reusable bags for sale and to provide paper bags — and charge at least five cents for the paper bag.

The ordinance takes effect in two phases: Rosauers, Safeway and Walmart on March 1 and all other stores on July 1.

Plastic bags provided in pharmacy, produce, bakery and other areas within the store will still be allowed.

Plastic bags may be brought to the store and reused for take home.

“We wanted to run out early, to help let our customers know ahead of time, to be aware of it,” Morgan said. “Most people said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’”

Morgan would have had to order 80,000 new ones — a three months’ supply, so they made the transition early, and have strived to educate people on reusable bags and the nickel charge coming March 1. Morgan said he turned down one patron’s request to send him 50 pounds of Rosauers bags.

Strickland said, “We’re hearing people say, ‘I better be better about bringing bags into the store,’ or ‘I left them in the car or at home.’”

Morgan said customers generally don’t like the change, but are accepting. “The response we’ve gotten from customers is they didn’t get to vote on it, they were just told this is what was going to be. Most feedback is that it had been passed but weren’t aware,” he said.

Morgan pointed to the well-used bins containing free reuseable bags. May Street fifth graders placed the bins in stores more than a year ago, with signs inviting people to leave a bag or take one as needed. The bins do empty out, but more bags make their way in, according to Morgan.

“Because of our bag turnstiles it’s maybe a little more difficult for us, but we’ll adjust,” Disch said. The store uses checkout turnstiles that are designed for plastic bags. Now, clerks will put one or more barrel or reusable bags into place, depending on the customer’s need.

“I think it will slow down the speed of checkout, but we will come up with solutions,” Disch said. “It’s been fine, a smooth transition, though we had to work with the home office to get a code into the system to charge for them (barrel bags).”

“You will see a lot more people use their bag,” Morgan said. “They’ll train themselves. If people bring in plastics, we can still bag in those, so it would be like reusing it and they get a nickel off. But those start to disintegrate after a while.”

Strickland said the store has plenty of reusable bags in stock and can replenish several times a week depending on demand. The change was nothing new to Safeway, with stores in Portland and other areas where similar laws are in place.

“The company is familiar with the process and has good plans in place to make this kind of a change,” he said.

“In the long run, it will save us money,” Disch said. “Charging is really smart because people will bring their own bags.”

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