Going into Albertsons on Friday afternoon, Barbara Seaman thought she had a pretty good handle on Bend’s plastic bag ban law.
But when she left, Seaman came out with groceries, a paper bag she wasn’t expecting to pay 10 cents for, and a sense of confusion. Which bag ban was the law of the land? The one that began July 1 in Bend, or a statewide ban approved by the Oregon Legislature and scheduled to begin Jan. 1?
Compounding the confusion: The city of Bend established a grace period for stores and consumers that would last until Jan. 1.
“I had heard stores were supposed to be holding off. … I thought (the ban) was going to start with the state law,” Seaman said, putting her groceries into the back of her car. “And evidently, they didn’t.”
There has been a lack of clarity in some local grocery stores as Bend’s plastic bag ban, strictly enforced or not, rolls into its second week. Some shoppers, like Beverly Johnson, of Redmond, were just caught off guard by the change — expecting it to come next year — but were ultimately unbothered by it.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen,” Johnson said, clutching a paper bag outside of the Safeway on Third Street. “But I know I don’t want to take (my groceries) out to my car with my hands.”
The state law, signed by Gov. Kate Brown on June 20, dictates that all retail establishments will not be allowed to provide single-use plastic bags, but allows retailers to provide recycled paper bags, reusable heavy plastic bags, or reusable fabric bags for a charge of at least 5 cents per bag.
Bend’s ordinance, however, focused more on grocery stores and set the minimum price for alternative bags at 10 cents.
“There’s not a lot of resistance to the idea of it — just confusion over which law takes precedence,” said Joe Gillium, the president of the Northwest Grocery Association.
Last month, the day before Brown signed the state law, the Bend City Council decided to discuss repealing its ban at the next meeting July 17, in an effort to limit the confusion of enforcing two separate but extremely similar laws.
If the local law is removed, stores will not be required to charge for paper bags until January, when the state law takes effect. But until then, the city has urged retailers to hold off following the local law, said Anne Aurand, the city’s communication director. Because of the city’s grace period, stores won’t get punished if they haven’t started charging for bags yet.
“It’s a strange message to give out,” Aurand said.
Each store has delivered that message differently. Newport Market, which phased out plastic bags earlier this year, has found success in getting the message across through employees at the register.
“We’ve really made an effort to educate our front-end staff that this is a city law made by our City Council, and that very specifically the 10- cent change is not a choice we made, but that the City Council made for us,” said Newport Market CEO and President Lauren Johnson.
Grocery Outlet has chosen to simplify things by not charging for paper bags yet, manager Lin Teng said.
“We just said we’ll follow the state law,” Teng said.
Regardless of the repeal, Gillium, of the Northwest Grocery Association, believes confusion over a new law is to be expected, and that time and education will sort it out.
“Bend was a bit of the catalyst for the statewide bill, but this isn’t a new issue. … It’s just getting used to something new,” Gillium said. “But for local folks, I don’t think they see the difference between local and state (laws).”
On Friday afternoon, many shoppers echoed this sentiment with a similar question: There’s a state ban?
“I didn’t even know about the ban here until a friend told me about it yesterday,” said Ashley Aery, a La Pine resident shopping at Safeway on Friday.
To avoid the charge on bags, Aery decided to bring her leftover plastic grocery bags from home.
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org