City moves to ban single-use bags

City Council will vote on the plastic and paper bag ban proposal on April 1.

by David Minor

Now ubiquitous, plastic and paper bags could soon become scarce in Minneapolis.
To be more environmentally friendly, a proposed city ordinance would ban plastic bags and require businesses to impose a 5-cent fee for the use of paper bags. Retailers would keep any fees collected to defray costs.
The measure was approved by a City Council committee on Monday and will be voted on by the full council April 1.
If approved, the ban would be effective April 22, 2017.
More than 160 U.S. cities have enacted similar bans, as has the state of Hawaii.
Newspaper, dry-cleaning and bags used to wrap or package food like fruit, nuts and meats, among others, would be exempt from the ordinance. 
Ward 2 Council member Cam Gordon, who co-authored the proposal, said he decided to push the issue after residents approached him about litter throughout the city. In a Facebook post, Gordon said Minneapolis’ proposal is modeled after Seattle’s ban on single-use bags.
Gordon said customers who wish to use a paper bag are charged a fee because it is the quickest way to get shoppers to ditch single-use bags, as incentives are less effective for changing behavior.
The ordinance is part of the city’s larger zero-waste goal.
The measure intends to encourage the use of reusable bags while reducing litter, waste, lifecycle environmental impacts and negative impacts on recycling facilities.
“This ordinance will help me, and others like me, form new habits,” said Erin Niehoff, a recent University of Minnesota graduate who testified in favor of the proposal on Monday
In a recent cleanup of the Mississippi River, a one-mile stretch yielded five tons of trash in about 2.5 hours, according to city documents. 
While most who testified Monday supported the proposal, a few voiced their opposition. 
“We know of no city that’s proven that their ordinance has reduced bag consumption, reduced litter and achieved any meaningful environmental goal,” said Jonathan Perman, a representative of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which represents plastic and paper bag manufacturers. 
However, city documents cite Seattle waste management official estimates that the city’s ban reduced plastic bags by about 58 percent.
“By dealing with plastic waste in a comprehensive fashion, rather than aiming your sights at just one product … you would be much more better off as a city, and this would be more cost-effective for small businesses and the customers,” he said.
He said that studies show that plastic bags make up a tiny percent of the waste stream, adding that the U.S. now discards more multi-use bags than plastic bags. 
At the meeting, Jamie Pfuhl, president of the Minnesota Grocers Association, said many stores already have programs to limit plastic bag waste, like recycling initiatives.
Often, she said, those programs also accept more types of plastics than just bags, including those listed as exemptions in the ordinance.
She said there are recycling programs that employ disabled workers to sort the plastic bags, which are then recycled into new products.
Pfuhl also advised the committee to be wary of unintended consequences.
“It would be a shame to see some of these very, very positive community efforts be disbanded because of this ordinance,” she said.