Atkinson proposes bill to ban plastic bags

Frank Jones hates plastic bags, so he was a little annoyed with himself Wednesday morning at Food 4 Less.

"I forgot the reusable bags at home," the 68-year-old Gold Hill resident said.

As a result, Jones was grudgingly loading his groceries into plastic bags while reflecting on a bill proposed by state Sen. Jason Atkinson that would ban them.

"It works for me," said Jones.

He said plastic bags are nothing but trouble, ending up all over the countryside.

"These bags will be taken down for recycling," he said. "I don't like to see them all over the road."

Atkinson, R-Central Point, and Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, have proposed a bill that would ban retailers from using plastic bags at checkout and force them to charge 5 cents for each paper bag. Fashioned after Oregon's bottle bill, it's designed to encourage the use of reusable, cloth bags. It may face an uphill battle, however, in the Legislature, which convenes Feb. 1.

"I've got bills out there that have far more traction," Atkinson said. "On this particular one, for some reason, it has created a lot of heated opinion."

He's been criticized by people in his own political party for an idea he thinks makes environmental sense for a state that prides itself on its beauty.

"A lot of people are very angry and they say I'm taking away their rights to plastic bags," he said.

Glen Finley, who happily filled plastic bags up with groceries Wednesday morning, wondered why anyone would want to get rid of something so useful and not subject to falling apart like paper bags.

"These are more convenient and easier to handle," the 71-year-old Eagle Point resident said.

All around him, shoppers were filling up with reusable bags, which drew a scoff from Finley.

"These ones they're selling are going to wear out, and they're going to make as much of a mess in the landfill," he said.

Atkinson said it makes more sense for Oregonians to embrace paper bags because everyone wants to help the timber industry. The state manufactures paper bags, he said, but not plastic.

In addition, many cities such as Portland and some along the coast have endorsed the idea of bans on plastic bags because they're often carelessly discarded along sidewalks and roadways and blown around by the breeze.

Atkinson said the bottle bill hasn't been wholeheartedly endorsed, and he expects it could take a few legislative sessions before a plastic bag bill is passed.

Meanwhile, many shoppers at Food 4 Less already are taking advantage of the 5 cent-a-bag savings by bringing reusable sacks.

"They give you a discount every time," said Elena Blackson. "I love it."

The 28-year-old Medford mother said she started using reusable, washable bags about six months ago, which means she gets discounts at a number of local stores.

She said they're pretty sturdy, and she was getting sick of storing all the plastic bags at home. Her only problem is remembering to bring them to the store.

Her 4-year-old son, Kyle, was busy filling up his mother's bags while she was busy talking.

"He likes to help me bag," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

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