Portland's plan to ban plastic bags from local grocery stores by 2011 breezed through City Council last week with hardly a peep. The only person who turned up to oppose the measure is local crank Terry Parker, who turns up at public meetings on an almost-weekly basis to dismiss environmentalism as socialism and bicycles as communist.

The lack of opposition is a shock, given how controversial banning the bag has been in our sister cities. San Francisco's ban on plastic bags has had a mixed impact, since it has cut down on littler but increased use of paper bags with their higher environmental footprint. Seattle went ballistic on its 20-cent paper and plastic bag fee, repealing the fee last year. So why did things go so differently in Portland?

Environmental groups around the country who are pushing plastic bag bans could look to Portland as an example of how to turn political will against plastic bags rather smoothly. I talked with the Surfrider Foundation's Pete Stauffer about how his coalition won in Portland.

1. Push for a bag ban that's good for business. I wrote about the unusual alliance of business and environmentalists backing the bag ban and having heavyweights like Fred Meyer and the Northwest Grocery Association speaking up in favor of the ban made a huge political difference. Getting that kind of support meant working with business to draft the ban, which grocers liked because it passed along some of the cost of paper bags to shoppers and prioritized reusable bags. "One of we learned is that we we both want to see people using reusable bags," says Stauffer. "Environmentalists want to see it because it's better for the environment, but it also saves money for businesses."

2. Shoot for a policy that's not too extreme. Seattle's fee on paper bags was 20 cents. Ours will be five cents, unless a statewide law in 2011 sets a different standard. It's harder to scare people with a nickle.

3. Get lots of citizens behind the ban before it comes to a vote. Then get them to turn out to impress politicians. Mayor Adams pitched a plastic bag ban back in 2007 and it didn't get anywhere, in part because there wasn't a tsunami of public support. The Surfrider Foundation has spent the past three years gathering petitions and building a ban the bag army who make quite the impact when they filled every seat at city hall during the first Ban the Bag hearing.