Bad Economy Stalls Plastic Bag Legislation

Last modified on March 5, 2009 by Site Administrator

Mayor Sam Adams decided against proposing a small fee for Portland retailers that distribute disposable carryout bags to customers. Lisa Libby, Adams’ senior policy adviser, cited concerns over consumers switching to paper bags and expressed that there was no intention of taxing both plastic and paper bags in the midst of economic downturn. "We're still looking at ways to partner with retailers for ways to educate the public to get a behavior change that way," she said.

The Darker Side of the PSF Container Ban

Last modified on January 3, 2009 by Site Administrator

On January 1, 1990, Portland became one of the first U.S. cities to impose a ban on the sale of disposable food service items made of polystyrene foam (PSF). Those most affected by the ban were bakery, deli, fruit, vegetable, ice cream, and beverage vendors who were restricted from using PSF materials though schools, hospitals, individuals and non-profits were exempt from the ban.

Two decades after the ban, it has been found that all plastic and nondurable plates and cups comprise a mere 0.4% of total garbage volume with PSF products making up a very small fraction of this amount. Research on PSF’s effect on wildlife has remained inconclusive and substitutes for PSF have been found to be even more detrimental to the environment as paper products are an inferior substitute to plastic and customers often demand double cups or cup sleeves with their beverages, thereby increasing energy requirements and emissions. Furthermore, vendors in the Portland area contest that at the moment, biodegradable packaging is still too expensive to be economical. The total cost to Portland food vendors following the ban is estimated around $4 million annually.


Adams puts grocery bag tax idea on hold, from Oregon Live on February 4, 2009
In his plan for the first 100 days as mayor, Sam Adams stated that he would implement a small fee for all disposable bags distributed to consumers. However, he recently abandoned this plan, stating that now is not that time to hit Portland consumers with a new fee. Though the bag tax is not a top priority at the moment, Adams stated that the issue may be revisited when the economy improves.

City of Portland, Oregon Office of Sustainable Development, October 2007 (Accessed June 28, 2008).
Official city website that outlines the rules and regulations for the ban as well as detailing the city code that the PSF ban falls under (Solid Waste & Recycling, 17.102). Includes descriptive information about what is included and exempt from the ban and provides contact information for further questions.

Sustainable Failure: Why Portland’s Polystyrene Foam Ban Should Be Repealed from the Cascade Policy Institute, December 10, 2007 (Accessed June 20, 2008).
The Cascade Policy Institute in Oregon analyzes the economic and environmental impacts of the polystyrene foam ban instituted in Portland in January 1990. They provide data to support their analysis that the ban resulted in switching to costlier and less environmentally friendly substitutes. They also discuss the unintended consequences of the ban such as reduction in the capacity to recycle polystyrene foam.

Science Fiction: Lessons from Portland’s Ban on Polystyrene Foam (Accessed June 28, 2008).
An informational leaflet that highlights reasons behind withdrawing the 1988 proposal to ban the use of polystyrene foam (PSF) for prepared food in restaurants, grocery stores and other retail establishments. The study found that substitutes for PSF products had a heavier environmental impact and drove up costs to businesses and consumers. This paper described the effects of the ban, its unforeseen effects and solutions for change.

>For more information, visit our References page