By Edward Russo The Register-Guard
EUGENE, Ore. — Pushing a cart full of groceries from the Fred Meyer store in north Eugene on Wednesday, Tracy Brandt said the city’s 6-month-old plastic bag ban has barely changed things in his household.
Brandt said he and his wife had long brought reusable shopping bags to stores, so they didn’t have to make much of an adjustment once the ban took effect on May 1.
“I try to be more thoughtful when I go shopping and remember to bring bags,” he said.
Brandt, with a young daughter and son in tow, took his groceries from the Santa Clara area store on Division Avenue in three reusable bags and one paper bag. Some foodstuffs were laid loosely in the cart.
Brandt had to pay a nickel for the paper bag.
“If we get too much and have to drop a nickel for a paper bag, it’s no big deal,” he said.
A half year after the ban removed thin plastic bags from Eugene stores, Brandt seems to be representative of many consumers who are generally accepting of shopping without plastic bags.
The ordinance requires retailers to charge a minimum of 5 cents for each paper bag. The fee is meant to encourage people to bring their own bags. The minimum charge also was added to the ordinance at the request of the Northwest Grocery Association to help retailers recover the cost of paper bags, which are more expensive than plastic ones.
Henry Johnson, manager at the Santa Clara Fred Meyer, said customers have replaced plastic bags with a combination of reusable bags and paper sacks. Some customers carry items from the store by hand or in shopping carts.
“It’s kind of a mix,” Johnson said. “But we are definitely seeing more reusable bags being used. There is no doubt about that at all.”
But not all Fred Meyer shoppers were as abiding as Brandt about paying a nickel for each paper bag.
Junction City residents Ken and Carmen Rankin on Wednesday had two reusable bags in their cart.
The nickel-per-paper-bag charge riles Ken Rankin. He views it as another example of heavy-handed government.
“That’s a bunch of baloney,” Rankin said.
“You just have to go with the flow,” he said about the ban. But the fee is “just another way of controlling the citizens.”
When the City Council passed the ordinance to implement the ban, it required the city staff to present a report six months after it took effect. The council wanted to see how the ban was working and whether it contributed to an increase in reusable shopping bags brought to stores.
To answer that question, shoppers earlier this month were surveyed as they entered or left eight grocery stores, Stephanie Scafa, a city zero waste analyst, told the council on Wednesday.
Fifty-four percent of the 173 shoppers said the ban had led them to bring bags to the store more often than they had before the ban, she said.
Thirty-five percent of respondents said the ban hadn’t changed their habits, Scafa said, with 11 percent of the shoppers saying they had brought bags to the store before the ban took effect.
The bottom line: The ban appears to be getting more people to use reusable shopping bags, Scafa said.
“In terms of waste reduction, which was the purpose of this ordinance, we believe it was effective,” she told councilors.
Retailers also were surveyed about the ban, including whether they thought the minimum 5-cent charge for paper bags encouraged people to bring bags to the store.
The 144 retailers who responded were evenly split on the answer to that question, Scafa said.
The council took no action at its meeting, but the review gave north Eugene Councilors Mike Clark and George Poling a chance to criticize the fee.
Clark said the ban is fine, but the minimum 5-cent charge is “nonsense” and “very bad public policy.”
In the survey questions, city staff members should have asked whether the city should require the charge in the first place, he said.
Clark challenged his colleagues to put the fee on the ballot to let voters decide whether to keep it.
But most councilors appear satisfied with the ban, and the fee.
“This is pretty much working the way I expected it to work,” said southeast Councilor Alan Zelenka, the ban’s main council proponent.
Several shoppers at the Santa Clara Fred Meyer on Wednesday were using reusable bags to transport their groceries, but a few had purchased paper bags.
Dan Love, who lives near Fern Ridge Lake, paid a nickel for a bag that he carried from the store.
Love also shops in Veneta, which doesn’t have a plastic bag ban.
Shopping in Eugene, with its bag ban, and in other cities, which don’t, can make it confusing for shoppers, Love said.
The Ray’s Market in Veneta dispenses paper bags without charge, he said. The Bi-Mart there uses plastic bags.
“Usually, I have (reusable) bags that I bring, but it’s hard to remember to bring them all the time,” Love said.