I make a motion to ban cosutmes from City Hall.
  • I make a motion to ban cosutmes from City Hall.
There is nowhere to sit in city hall. Blame the environmentalists. Over 150 people wearing blue "Ban the Bag" shirts are packed into city council's chambers, turned out by a coalition of green groups who are trying to get Portland, and then the state, to ban single-use plastic bags from grocery stores and corner shops. Of course, Portlanders had strong incentives to join Ban the Bag's camp outside city hall this morning: Free Tiny's coffee and VooDoo donuts.

After hearing testimony from the Ban the Bag activists, Mayor Adams received a standing ovation when he closed the session with the promise, "By the end of the week, we will have a draft of our ordinance out that will ban single-use grocery bags."

Though banning the bag got big support at council, ridding the city of grocery bags is clearly going to be an uphill battle. That's why enviros are laying in the troops now: Council isn't even voting on a plastic bag ban anytime soon, but the green groups want to show strong support for a controversial issue.

Without good organizing on the Ban the Bag side, Portland could repeat what happened in Seattle last year. Our sister city approved a 20-cent fee on plastic bags but after heavy outreach by the American Chemistry Council (which represents plastic bag manufacturers), the voters repealed the "bag tax."

Tim Chestek of the American Chemistry Council says his group will certainly fight a bag ban in Portland, too. They say that cities should focus on promoting bag recycling programs rather than banning plastic bags altogether. "You won't get an argument from us that our product shouldn't be littered," says Chestek.

That's the problem with plastic bags: They make up a huge amount of our trash, comprising a whopping 12 percent of marine debris. "Our ocean's becoming a toxic soup of plastic, it's killing a million sea birds a year," says Brock Howell of Environment Oregon. Howell says about 40 jurisdictions nationwide either ban or tax plastic bags, so Portland's wouldn't be anything new, but it would be one of the biggest cities so far to take the anti-plastic plunge.

Environment Oregon is pursuing a statewide ban on retail outlets using the single-use bags. The Department of Environmental Quality would likely be in charge of enforcing the law in stores.

Some stores in Portland have already voluntary taken paper's side in the paper vs. plastic question. You won't find plastic bags at New Seasons or Whole Foods and they pass along a five to ten cent paper bag fee along to customers who don't bring their own.