Editorial: Bag ban would be wrong focus for Bend council


The Bag Monster’s appearance in Bend last week signaled the latest effort to get the Bend City Council to approve a ban on plastic retail bags.

It was only a few months ago, in March, that the council wisely turned aside such an effort. It’s time for a repeat, without losing too much time on it.

The Bag Monster is a person covered with more than 400 plastic bags, representing the number of bags reportedly used by an individual in a year. It’s a publicity tool used by Environment Oregon, a statewide nonprofit pushing the ban.

The Oregon bag-ban lobby has been successful with governments in Portland, Eugene and Corvallis, but failed to persuade the 2013 Legislature to outlaw the bags in the rest of the state.

Nationally and locally, however, the advocates have had a significant impact on consumer behavior. Some stores have stopped offering plastic bags, and many are actively encouraging customers to bring reusable bags.

In other words, the lobbying and publicity are working to change what we do. More and more, Central Oregonians are getting the message and acting accordingly. It’s far more common today to see customers carrying reusable bags into grocery stores than it was just a few years ago.

That’s the way it should work, rather than by government edict.

That principle is especially applicable in this case, given that the evidence isn’t as clear-cut as ban supporters say. As with so many controversial issues, the science is uncertain and the unintended consequences unknown. Getting consumers to recycle or otherwise use the bags more responsibly could be more effective than a ban.

Also, a bag ban shouldn’t be a city-by-city issue, but a statewide one. Merchants shouldn’t have to vary procedures depending on city boundaries.

Bend councilors have another reason to turn aside this effort, however. As several have said, they have much more critical issues to address, ranging from the Bridge Creek water debacle to the outdated sewer system to the questions raised by Mirror Pond’s silt. Those are the issues that demand the council’s time, energy and attention.