City looks at plastic bag ban

Environment Oregon is launching a campaign today in hopes of persuading the Ashland City Council to ban plastic shopping bags.

Mayor John Stromberg said he will refer the initiative to the city's Conservation Commission for study and recommendations before the council votes on it.

Based in Portland and formerly part of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, Environment Oregon plans a news conference on the proposal at 3 p.m. today at the entrance to Lithia Park. The movie "Bag It" will be shown at 5:30 p.m. at the Ashland Art Center, 357 E. Main St. The events are free and open to the public.

The group helped to ban bags in Portland, Eugene and Corvallis and seeks to add Ashland to that list as a way of building statewide momentum for the cause, said Stromberg.

He emailed the city administrator to see whether he has the power to refer the matter first to the Conservation Commission, Stromberg said, noting he's concerned about plastic bags but doesn't want to express an opinion before it gets to the council.

Sarah Higginbotham, director of Environment Oregon, said her group is seeking a ban next in Ashland, as "Ashland is very environmentally friendly. No one's saying it wouldn't work in Medford, but there's so much support for it in Ashland. ... We'd love to work with any city where there's support. We're working with Bend and Salem now."

At least four Ashland grocery stores — Albertsons, the Ashland Food Co-op, Shop'n Kart and Market of Choice — have eliminated plastic bags from their stores, though there are still retailers in Ashland using them, said Nina Gillespie, preservation intern with Environment Oregon.

"We're not targeting anyone," she said. "We're looking for the best solution, with the City Council."

Councilwoman Carol Voisin said she expects the proposal to get council approval and become law.

"It's a good, timely idea," said Voisin. "The citizens of Ashland pretty much already comply. I can't imagine anyone on the council voting against it. It's environmentally sound and meets with our image of who we are."

Oregonians use more than 1.7 billion bags a year, said Gillespie. Discarded bags that make their way into streams and eventually the ocean are a threat to marine life that ingest or get entangled in them.

"This is an environmental disaster, killing thousands of birds and other marine animals, like sea turtles," Gillespie said.

Voison believes Ashland citizens will support the initiative.

"This is a symbolic statement to ourselves and the rest of Oregon and the world that we do take seriously the environment and ocean life and we do hope others follow us," she said.

The Environment Oregon website invites anyone to sign a form letter, but the page doesn't say who it's being sent to. Gillespie said letters from the Ashland area go to all council members.

Voisin said she's heard complaints from councilors about the volume of emails, which one official likened to spam.

"I'm fine with it, though some counselors don't like it," Voisin said.

One signer of the form letter to the council, Alex Censor, said his first choice is to follow the Ashland Food Co-op's lead in not only eliminating plastic but charging for paper bags.

"That removes the objection of the government telling you what to do," Censor said. "People feel they are making a choice. Continuing to use paper bags is far from benign. Charging for paper bags radically affected people. Instead of pushing people to the lesser of two evils, paper bags, it incentivized them to bring their own nondisposable bag."

Rogue Riverkeeper and Jackson County Master Recyclers have signed onto the cause, as has noted expedition kayaker Chris Korbulic, who will speak at today's event. Also present will be the Bag Monster, a person with 500 plastic bags stuck to his body, to illustrate the problem on a personal level.

Founded in 2006, Environment Oregon is a public interest group that gets 80 percent of its funding from donations of the public and accepts no money from corporations, Higginbotham said.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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