I would like to respond to the recent guest column by Mary Ellen Coulter. I do not think that I know her, but I agree with her on almost everything and thought her article was thoughtful and well written. Of course, the part I disagree with is in the banning of plastic bags. Bag bans have unintended consequences. The biggest one is that a plastic bag ban shifts the burden to using paper or some type of reusable bag. Paper bags are a lot more expensive and have their share of detrimental environment issues. Paper bags place a bigger cost burden on small retailers who do not have the negotiating or buying power of the mega merchants. Not to mention the price creep that the paper bag manufactures would implement knowing they don’t have to compete with a plastic bag manufacturer.
We have all heard the saying that a person takes better care of something that they had to buy, than they do something that is given to them. I believe that is true with bags be it plastic or paper. A consumer (other than their passion or belief system) does not have enough incentive to consistently bring bags to use. Costco has taught us you can buy a lot of stuff and not have it put in a bag.
I would suggest a set mandatory fee on paper and plastic rather than an outright ban on one. I would extend the mandatory bag fee beyond grocery stores to include most businesses. Of course, there would need to be some exemptions. A few right off the top of my head would be the bag your newspaper comes in, wet produce bags, bakery and other direct food bags, dog waste bags and, of course, bags for medicine. There are more, but I think you get my drift.
A set mandatory fee on bags charged by all retailers would give the customers a bigger incentive to reuse a bag. The consumer would get used to carrying the bag or bags at all times just like they do in a lot of places in Europe. In the beginning, the fee should be split between an entity and the retailers. The entity should take the first few years of their fee and study if the fee is having the desired effect. If studies show that the program is not working as well as hoped, raise the fee. If the program works, fewer bags will be needed, and the revenue will decrease. At that time, the entity fee should revert to the retailers to help cover their ongoing cost of bags.
At the end of the day, you are trying to change behavior and habits. It is said that it takes about two months to change a habit. It is said that it takes roughly one to nine months to form a new habit. Within the first year, we should have a pretty good idea how well the program is working. If we can get all of the details worked out, maybe Bend can take the program statewide. Worst-case scenario would be if the program doesn’t work, a plastic bag ban is an option. Thanks for listening.
— Rudy Dory lives in Bend and was the founder of Newport Market.