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Sunday, July 27, 2008

An easy way to beat the new Portland grocery bag tax

Mayor-elect Sam the Tram's resurrection of a 20-cent city tax on grocery bags calls up all the insanity of the Green Distraction Party currently ruling the City of Portland. The City Council can't manage any of the things that it was elected to do, and so it's going to make itself busy managing your personal life.

And there's never a tax that Sammy didn't like. Remember all the inane "open houses" about his "safe, green, streets" tax? That went nowhere. Now he's going to start his Hillary-like "conversation" about whether the city should get to tag you for $1 because you brought your five bags of groceries home in bags that the store supplied rather than your own cloth bags with the Whole Foods logo on the side.

Most retailers will already spot you a nickel for using your own bag, and so there's already an incentive to avoid and reuse bags. But the city doesn't get any money out of that arrangement, and since it's an optional practice the city commissioners don't get that glow that they get when they tell you how to live, and so that's not enough.

If the city does in fact pass this tax, stores and customers will find ways to work around it. One way would be to have the stores sell individual disposable grocery bags off their shelves for a nickel apiece. When the customer got to the checkout, he or she could buy the bag for a nickel, and then instruct the clerk to put the rest of the customer's order in his or her "own" bag -- the one he or she just bought. That would put all parties right back to where they are today, and the city wouldn't get its 20 cents to spend on streetcar operators' salaries.

Of course, shoppers near the Portland city limits could simply do their shopping outside those limits and avoid the issue altogether.

Comments (41)

JK: Naw, I'll just go to the closest WalMart outside of Portland. Mill Plain exit about 2 min. north of Cascade Station on I205 (no sales tax to Oregonians), or on I84 near Wood Village(?).

I actually bought a can of spray paint without giving fireman Randy my ID!

Additional advantage of the one in Washington: gas at the Arco is as cheap as Oregon, but the gas tax doesn’t feed Sam’s streetcar/light rail (toy train) delusions - a true win-win


You've nailed what I plan to do, Jack - I live 1.5 blocks inside Portland city limits, but do all of my grocery shopping at the stores closest to me (you can never be too "green", you know). It just so happens that all of those stores are on the Washington County side of the line. Poor Sam!

On a similar note: I was at the local Freddie's, picking up a new router for my network yesterday, and the guy started to stuff it into a bag. I caught him and told him I didn't need a bag, whereupon he said it's just as well because Adams is going to start charging for them. I pointed out that the store is in Washington County, and he positively beamed.

"Remember all the inane "open houses" about his "safe, green, streets" tax? That went nowhere."

Whaddaya mean? It's gonna happen before the end of the year.

On the bags, when I start hearing his best justification being SF, Seattle and Europe do it, so why shoudln't we, he is reaching.

Another insane tax proposal under the guise of sustaina... I can't even write the word any longer.

Not long ago I actually heard a local public official talk about taking small waste cans away from government desks so that employees would be encouraged to be less wasteful. I wonder where all that chewing gum will go?

Will the new bag charge be for both plastic and paper bags? Not that it matters to me that much, I have always considered myself to be bi-saxual.

gas at the Arco is as cheap as Oregon, but the gas tax doesn’t feed Sam’s streetcar/light rail (toy train) delusions.

Nah, instead you're paying the extra nickel up here which, if you believe Dino Rossi and Tim Eyman, is being used on equally frivolous projects. Of course unlike Portland, we actually got to vote on the nickel.

As usual, Sam has his head up his a**. Thankfully we moved from Portland a bit more than 2 years ago and find the politics of our local community a trifle more sane than in the holier-than-thou pillars of Portlandia. It seems to me that they should simply ban plastic bags and leave paper bags alone. Paper is recyclable and all my paper bags have been made from high post-consumer waste products. The "bring your own" bag model is simply preposterous. Great for small trips, but for the gigantic trip to Winco, it would be nearly impossible. I don't see why Portland has to be on the cutting (so sharply that you bleed) edge of stupidity.

The use of disposable shopping bags does have a big environmental impact, uses a tremendous amount of Oil in their production, and cost the city money to dispose of them. Why shouldn't consumers pay that cost. I hope they charge 25 cents a bag to make it meaningful. Also when is the fact that Europe does something, considered a negative. It isn't difficult to bring a reusable bag to the store and they don't have to have Whole Foods, as Jbog so disdainfully notes. I believe Freddy's has those bags and just about every other grocery store.
Mr. Fearless47- You really need to get in shape. Carying the needed reusable bags from your Winco trip from the parking lot to the store should not be an impossibility for even the most unhealthy and out of shape of Americans. But that 1/4 of a pound (max) per bag can be heavy, i mean just think about it, 8 bags would equal 2 full pounds. A lot to carry for any single american from the parking lot to the store.

cost the city money to dispose of them


Hey Sam the scam could be your box boy.Now that would be green.

An easy way to beat the bag tax is to bag Sam the Tram-RECALL!

Sam the Tram really hits a sore point with many. Yesterday at Baxter's checkout counter as the checker was bagging my purchases, the fellow behind me unsolilicatedly said, "probably won't be able to do that much longer", then he went into a triad about Sam the Tram. I wonder if he'll even be able to make it until his crowning.

Until there's a better alternative than Sho, the Trammeister is here to stay.

I have a cloth grocery bag that I bought at Fred's a few months ago. Only thing is, once I bring in a bag of groceries, I usually forget to put it back in the car. So I end up getting a paper or plastic bag. A 20-cent fee will probably make me remember, cheapskate that I am.

If we stop getting plastic bags, what will we use for scooping dog poop? Well, I use the bags that the Oregonian comes in. I see the O supports this fee, so are they now going to get rid of these bags? (I have a chock full kitchen drawer full of them.)

I wonder if the extra cost associated with these bags will prompt Fred's to train their checkers in how to bag groceries. It's amazing how many plastic bags they can go through in processing about $30 worth of groceries.


You join Sam with your head up your a**. The paper bags don't cost the city a dime to dispose of. The garbage fee we pay includes a recycling fee. I use my PAPER grocery bags for many other things; I just won't bother to carry them back into the store or any other store. I have recyclable bags for use at our local Saturday market. And as for my being in shape, I'm betting that for a 62 yo male, I'm probably in better shape than you. I walk everywhere, ride my bike, work out three times a week with a trainer, play tennis twice to three times per week. I just don't devote myself to being politically correct or wasting time while in the grocery store.

My wife and I switched using plastic Hefty bags for our kitchen trash and now use recycled paper shopping bags. Guess this means we'll go back to the Hefty bags....great thinking, Sam!

Sam should want all of us to use paper bags and throw them away so that they can stay in the landfill forever.

That will sequester all that carbon in the paper for centuries. Isn't sequestering carbpon a good thing?


I wonder how Sam will solve the problems of all the garbage that spews out onto the sidewalks, curbs when the bins are past full. When you walk down most Central City streets that extra garbage is in plastic bags about every fifty feet. I guess it will just be strewn all over the sidewalk if Sam's idea prevails. Great thinking, Sam.

SF estimates that plastic bags cost the city $8.5 million per year in cleanup costs. "Litter costs alot of money to clean up. The City of San Francisco estimates that it alone spends about 8.5 million dollars on cleanup and disposal of littered plastic bags." In addition, the use of plastic bags is estimated to have a cost of $4 billion per year. http://www.plasticbageconomics.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=16&Itemid=30

Paper bags are a better alternative though still not perfect. I am glad many people use them for trash, but most people do not and a small tax for your trash bag would not be that bad.

Mr. Fearless- i am glad you work out. I never had any doubt you could carry the required reusable bags from home to Winco for your weekly shopping trip. I merely thought your comment of the inconvience was hilarious.

The natural consequence of the bag tax: Bag Police.

In UK someone was fined 300L for using the wrong bags. The city was three weeks late delivering the correct ones and the poor owner had to do something. Jackbooted thugs swooped in. Here's the link:

"Why shouldn't consumers pay that cost."

I believe they do when they buy groceries and the store buys the bags. What we are talking about is anumber Mr Adams pulled out of his a$$, $0.20, that will never be used to clean up plastic bags and only go to pet projects.

"The use of disposable shopping bags does have a big environmental impact, uses a tremendous amount of Oil in their production"

Any specifics or are you going to just assume what you say is true?

"when is the fact that Europe does something, considered a negative."

You're right 15% unemployment shouldn't be a negative.

"when is the fact that Europe does something, considered a negative."

Since when is it a positive?

Don't you realize that Sam is looking after you? Why question it? He is a SAINT! Jonathon is right, we should not question anything Sam tells us.... we should just do it because, gosh darn it...it's the more sustainable, progressive, carbon-neutral, green thing to do.

So ride a bike while carrying you're one bag of groceries home to your studio apartment in the Pearl you creative worker, you! We bless you here in Portland, the greenist, carbon-neutralist, sustainist, progressivist city in all the world!... Right Jonathan?

They do this in Copenhagen. It's 25 crowns, or a quarter krone. A krone is roughly 1/6 of a US dollar, so roughly a US nickel for a plastic bag at checkout. This is a nation with a 25% VAT on just about every transaction you make. If they tried raising the price to a whole krone or more, even those socialized Danes would probably respond with anger.

The great irony is that the extreme left in Copenhagen resides in a communal community called Christiania and refuse to pay taxes. The left as anti-tax crusaders. Go figure. In a city where a Whopper w/ Cheese, fries, and medium pop will cost you about $10 USD, it's actually the best deal in town.

...But you don't see plastic bags blowing in the streets or flowing down the canals, either. There's a floating mass of plastic, solar-degrading confetti the size of Texas out there in the Pacific about 500 miles north of Oahu. I've seen enough of these plastic bags going down or rivers and streams to be willing to accept some kind of drastic action.


If you want to start your reading on unemployment numbers in the U.S. and Europe. Not the best source, but don't feel like doing your research. I am not saying that what ever Europe does is either positive or negative, just that labeling something as a European idea shouldn't make it a negative. The unemployment rate argument is overblown here if you add in our military spending, and prison population and the quality jobs available, it isn't great. In many parts of Europe, the average person lives a munch better life, look at Germany, Sweden, Norway, and they have healthcare paid for. Those are pluses. They also have problems as well, and both Europe and the U.S. have many things in common. I also wouldn't support a VAT tax, since they are by nature regressive, but i fully support taxes on gas, plastic bags, and other products that produce negative externalities (i.e. a carbon tax) that society ends up, as a whole, paying for. Let products reflect their true cost to society.

I said the oil comment without citing a source because i thought it was common sense. If you want another statistic, concerning plastic bags, here it is, "When 1 ton of plastic bags is reused or recycled, the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil are saved." I think that adds up to 12 million barrels.

Ah the hostility to the "creative class." Sadly I am not one of those individuals, just a SE PDX renter, though i do at times ride my bike the store using a reusable bag and shop at New Seasons, or TJs, or Freddys. I don't support the SE street car, would love to see more Max and lines instead, and don't mind urban density if people want to live there. Sam Adams is not my saint though if throwing labels around makes it easier to dismiss arguments without thinking, then please go ahead.

There is much to be respected in the European model of living.


Charging a bag tax is another in the long list of dumb ideas.

Put your bags in the re-cycling bins and stop all this nonsense.

Recycling is not that great. If you want to have an environmental impact you should reuse items. In Europe bottles are brought back to the store and reused (washed and repackaged) instead of recycled. Why not just reuse the plastic bags a few times?

Like Jonathon, I'm generally in favor of taxing products based on their true cost to society - including disposal. And I don't mind if, within reason, the amount of this tax levied exceeds true cost, provided the excess tax revenue is applied to offset something else similar.

In this case, though, it's not a reasonable excess, and Sam has already proposed that the excess won't be applied to anything similar. It seems pretty half-baked.

And has Sam even thought of how this is supposed to work in the self-checkout lanes? Honor system, perhaps?

SF estimates that plastic bags cost the city $8.5 million per year in cleanup costs. "Litter costs alot of money to clean up. The City of San Francisco estimates that it alone spends about 8.5 million dollars on cleanup and disposal of littered plastic bags."

That dollar figure does not seem credible. And besides, instead of cleaning up plastic bags, SF will just be cleaning up paper bags. Banning plastic isn't going to stop people from throwing cr*p on the ground.

And how much litter is the City of Portland cleaning up? Not much that I've ever seen.

The entertainment value of social engineering in the hands of armature politicians is priceless.

"just that labeling something as a European idea shouldn't make it a negative."

My issue is that for every new tax we keep getting this "it works in Europe" thrown in our face. If Mr Adams wants to effectively raise a new tax, then be a man about it and try not to hide behind some ginned-up reason like Europe does it, so it mus be OK.

...then he went into a triad about Sam the Tram.

Who were the other two participants?

The entertainment value of social engineering in the hands of armature politicians is priceless.


A combination of amateur and immature? The entertainment value of that isn't bad, either.

Myself, I'm just waiting for the impending remodel of the Freddy's at 39th and Hawthorne. Part of this remodel will include LEED Silver certification, and the elimination of all plastic and styrofoam in their own packaging - the meat will be in butcher paper, and the grocery bags will either be paper, or the cloth ones they've been selling for over a year now. It's not in this press release, but I have it on good authority.

Sam can stick this tax right with all the other ones he wants to put in place. When he stops ruining streets with big bumps of asphalt (SE 41st between Woodstock and Holgate just last week, when there's streets that intersect with Woodstock that aren't even paved), and starts putting that asphalt into potholes, I'll start thinking about listening to the hot air coming from his blow hole.

1 ton of bags equals 11 barrels of oil? Totally illogical.

11 barrels of oil weigh 3,300 pounds, which is more than the weight of the 335,000 plastic bags that make up a ton. Furthermore, plastic grocery bags in the US are made of polyethylene, which is made from ethane gas, which comes from natural gas, not oil.

Spell-check won’t cover dyslexia.

I take pride in disagreeing with everything Sam does, but have to kind of agree with him this time.

We should ban those plastic bags altogether and stick with paper. At least they decompose in the landfill (or the gutter in front of my house).

The fact is (and we really need to start having this conversation in this state): trees are one of the ultimate sustainable, renewable, recyclable materials. I love our forests too, but we should ramp logging back up (in a responsible, well-managed, way). Trees do grow back, and we have a crap load of them.

Set aside some protected forests (as we already have), much of the remaining old growth, protect major view corridors, and then start logging again. It can be done in a managed, measured way that allows spaces for the wildlife to get around it and keep living.

Funny that Portlanders are so critical of Californians, and yet they are looking to bring more and more California-style idiocy here.

I'm a master recycler, and all for the overall reduction of our insane consumption, but even I think this idea is crap. Oh, yeah, I'm also a City employee! Beyond the social engineering of this, there are so many practical holes in the proposal that it will be impossible to manage this. But hey - Sam's given up on the transportation tax - maybe we could start stuffing our plastic bags in all the potholes out there!

I will gladly pay my nickel for a shopping bag.....as soon as the tax on disposable diapers is in play. I mean, talk about fouling our landfills...

I truly don't see how anyone could compare San Francisco with Portland in this regard. On a recent trip to SF with a buddy, (Both of us green by virtue of our beautiful spouses) we were amazes at how absolutely filthy the was. The litter along the freeway from just north of Sacremento all the way to the city and everywhere we went there would suggest the tax is needed there. I lived here since high school (22 years now), have travelled a great deal of this country and europe and consider this place to be one of the cleanest. The fact is though, its clean because of the people who live here and the pride they have in it. Not because of governement rule or regulation.

My two cents...

I will gladly pay my nickel for a shopping bag.....as soon as the tax on disposable diapers is in play. I mean, talk about fouling our landfills...

Landfills? I am tired of seeing them left on benches at MAX stops...

They're taxing the wrong type of bags.

Grocery bag taxation would be highly regressive, disproportionately affecting modest-income households.

What Portland needs is a progressive tax. A tax that soaks the higher-income bracket. Something sustainable, as in a tax on something Portland will never run out.

I submit that Portland shouldn't tax the grocery bag.

Nay, Portland should tax the Douche Bag... and tax it mercilessly.

Orange hair highlights? $5 tax
Skinny-frame glasses? $10 tax
Casually-worn, stiff collard dress shirt? $20 tax (an extra $5 if cuffs are unbuttoned.. another $5 if sleeves are loosely rolled up)

Wake up Portland City Council! Imagine the possibilities! A fully-funded City traffic text message service! A bike path and mini-golf course on the new I-5 bridge (landscaped with native vegetation of course)!

Yes We Can!

I'm tired of seeing disposal diapers left in shopping carts. Yuk!

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