Those plastic grocery bags we’ve all become used to will be a thing of the past on Jan. 1. That’s when a law banning them across Oregon becomes effective.

The ban is the result of House Bill 2509 (the Sustainable Shopping Initiative) passed by the 2019 Oregon Legislature. It was signed by Gov. Kate Brown in July.

When the supermarket plastic bags begin to break up, they eventually produce tiny particles know as micro plastics. The bill was spawned by concerns about the effects of these micro plastics on fisheries and ocean ecosystems. There are also toxic materials the bags may unleash into lakes, streams and groundwater, as well as negative effects of the bags on wildlife that may consume them. Ironically, the bags came into use as a way to save trees.

Grocery stores in Wallowa County are already making plans for the change. Failure to comply with the law would potentially result in fines of $250 a day.

Enterprise Safeway manager Steve Hunter said there is a notice posted in the store explaining to customers the effect of the change. Safeway plans to charge 5 cents each for paper bags — the minimum charge that is mandated by the new law. The store will continue to sell reusable fabric bags for $1.

Pearl Sturm, a manager at The Market Place in Joseph, said they will soon post a notice.

“Quite a few of our customers already bring in cloth bags,” she said.

As she rang up customers’ purchases Thursday, Dec. 19, Sturm regularly asked them, “Bag or no bag.” Many declined to have their purchases bagged at all.

At Wallowa Food City the managers were unavailable, but a spokeswoman said the store already has paper available and sells cloth bags for $1.

Mike Goss, owner of the Dollar Stretcher in Enterprise, said he plans to comply. “Whatever the law is, the law is,” he said. “I’m not going to violate the law.”

The plastic bags have been around for a long time. Safeway and Kroger, two of the biggest supermarket chains in the U.S., switched from paper to plastic bags in 1982. More stores followed suit. By the end of the decade, plastic bags, which were economical to produce, had almost replaced paper around the world. Ironically, plastic bags came into vogue partly to save trees from being cut and turned into paper grocer bags.

Here at home, random shoppers in Enterprise and Joseph seemed largely in favor of the new law, though opinions and reasons varied.

“I see those empty bags all over the place,” Carol Baker said at Safeway. “They should be banned because no one will pick them up.”

Mike Hale, at the Market Place, is all for the change.

“I don’t like the plastic bags,” he said. “I’d pay more to not have them.”

Some people have been making the shift to reusable bags.

“It’ll remind me to remember the bags I always have in my car,” said Monica Weaver, another Safeway shopper.

Susan Barcik, also at Safeway, had another reason.

“I’ve been using (reusables) for a while,” she said. “I just got tired of recycling.”

Larry Davidson, while coming out of the Dollar Stretcher, admitted to a selfish reason for preferring the plastic bags.

“I like the bags because I can carry them,” he said.

But John Anderson, also at the Dollar Stretcher, was adamantly against the new law.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “We’ve been using plastic bags forever. Why quit using them? … It’s just the government doing more stupid stuff.”

Some shoppers who were asked seemed merely resigned to the change.

Rick Quesenberry, at the Dollar Stretcher, saw the change as inevitable.

“It’s got to be done,” he said. “I always liked paper better anyway.”

— Ellen Morris Bishop contributed to this story.

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