Plans to charge fee on plastic bags underway in Minneapolis

The Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance would require a 5 cent fee on paper and plastic bags.

Illustrated+by+Morgan+La+Casse

Morgan La Casse

Illustrated by Morgan La Casse

Miguel Octavio

Minneapolis is moving ahead with efforts that would require residents pay a fee on paper and plastic bags after previous pushback from the state.

Ward 2 City Council member Cam Gordon announced plans earlier this month to amend the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance, which the city had adopted in 2016 to ban single-use plastic in Minneapolis retailers but was shot down by state lawmakers. To comply with state laws, Gordon will propose an ordinance requiring retailers to charge a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags instead.

“The idea is that we start chipping away at this plastic waste that seems to be mounting up so much,” Gordon said.

Minneapolis backed off from the Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance one day before it was expected to go into effect after former Gov. Mark Dayton signed a budget bill forbidding any city to enact a ban on carryout bags. Gordon said the Legislature passed the bill to make bagging policies more consistent statewide after some businesses and shoppers felt their choices should not be limited.

Gordon introduced a similar measure establishing a bag fee in 2017, but the ordinance was tabled and never voted upon.

The ordinance is meant to encourage the use of reusable bags and reduce waste and processing issues at recycling facilities, Gordon said. A survey is currently being distributed to gather resident input.

“Part of why it got tabled in 2017 was there was staff direction asking for more community engagement in the process,” said Gordon. “Early this year, I decided we should pick this up and do it again.”

A House bill would allow retailers to use paper, plastic or reusable bags, reversing the current prohibition. The bill passed the House local government subcommittee in March. Gordon said the bill’s outcome this session could impact the eventual language of an ordinance.

“I suppose if this passes, I’ll take a deep breath and think about it and consult a bit about what would make the most sense, but right now we could just proceed with what we’ve already passed,” Gordon said. “I think what we’ll do is let the session end and schedule a public hearing in early June and bring it forward to the Council.”

The proposal would exempt items like produce bags, restaurant take-outs or farmers’ market bags from the 5-cent fee. People under recognized food assistance programs would also be exempt.

Minneapolis would follow cities with similar laws, including Washington D.C., New York and Portland, Maine, if the ordinance passes.

Dinkytown Business Alliance Vice President Randal Gast said the fee may not be enough to encourage the use of reusable bags.

“What you have here is some interesting environmental legislation,” Gast said. “But there are issues, kind of like the revenge of unintended consequences.”

University of Minnesota third-year student Paige DiSpirito said the ordinance should charge more than 5 cents per carryout bag. She said while the fee might not solve environmental problems, it can encourage more conversations.

“It might not make people happy, but it does start a conversation,” DiSpirito said. “I think it’s just more so about raising awareness and just trying to encourage people to try something new.”