Tara Gallagher of Surfrider Foundation attacked by plastic bag monsters.
  • Denis C. Theriault
  • Tara Gallagher of Surfrider Foundation attacked by "plastic bag monsters."
After more than a year of Portland's partial ban on plastic bags—applying only to retailers making more than $2 million a year—the Portland City Council this afternoon unanimously decided to extend the ban citywide.

Starting next October 1, every single Portland restaurant, food cart, big-box retailer, mom-and-pop shop, and grocer will be barred from providing their customers with single-use plastic bags—the long-derided scourge of rivers, beaches, and trash recyclers everywhere. Larger restaurants and stores will have to fall in line a bit earlier, by next spring, with the rest joining them in the fall. All told, close to 5,000 or so outfits will have to adjust.

The expansion was telegraphed last month by Adams after he unveiled report on the ban's first year that showed a dramatic increase in the use of reusable shopping bags. The move was hailed by the environmental organizations who spent years pushing Portland toward its initial ban, which put the city alongside several others on the West Coast.

But, notably, the expansion even received applause from industry lobbyists, both for what it does (it provides a "level playing field" by smacking all stores, grocery lobbyist Joe Gilliam explained) and what it doesn't (it avoids a five-cent fee on paper bags, lumber lobbyist Paul Cosgrove explained). And also from food cart and restaurant operators who said they'd be happy to ditch plastic if everyone else also had to do so.

"The free market solution is not necessarily in our benefit in the end," said Adam Dunn of Savor Soup House. "People have learned we do not need to use plastic bags. We are an adaptive group fully capable of making use of other packaging items."

If there was any sour notes sounded during what was mostly a pretty happy council session, they came from environmentalists who were hoping Adams really would go forward with a paper fee as a further means of encouraging the use of reusable bags. Adams floated it last month, but was quickly shot down by Randy Leonard and Dan Saltzman, with Saltzman taking credit for its defeat and once again airing timber industry talking points during today's hearing.

Saltzman said he was "not persuaded" a fee would do well here before all but donning a flannel shirt and picking up an ax: "We grow trees well here. We make paper well here. It creates jobs."