City of Austin takes another step to ban plastic bags

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by JESSICA VESS

KVUE News

Posted on July 25, 2011 at 2:58 PM

AUSTIN, TX -- The City of Austin is taking another step to ban plastic bags. On Monday, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell along with council members Chris Riley and Mike Martinez announced a resolution to get a new plastic shopping bag ban in place.

The proposal instructs City Manager Marc Ott to form a committee of businesses, consumers, and city officials to study and design a city-wide ban. They cite the success of at least eight other cities across the nation with city-wide plastic bag bans.

Over the past several years, Austin city officials have attempted to enforce plastic bag bans. They worked on a voluntary basis. None had a strong success.

"Most people use a plastic bag," said Ann Lowe of the Royal Blue Grocery store. "We have paper bags. We also have reusable bags that we can give away and some people do take their own bag in, but I say majority of people walk away with a plastic bag."

In 2008, a curbside plastic bag collection system failed. City officials say it cost too much to send crews out to collect the bags and it cost too much to process the recycling. They also say few people participated.

"It's about changing behavior," said one supporter. "It's also about changing business practices. It's a little bit of of both, and it's going to take both those measures to really get this initiative off the ground."

The committee will begin studying ways to enforce a ban. They will determine what, if any, exemptions will be included such as exemptions for small business and allowing plastic bags for raw meat. The committee will also formulate a timetable. The committee is expected to have a plan to present to council by November.

City officials say the ban would be phased in gradually once it begins.

"I think it's good that we're thinking about that mainly because in addition to the eyesore I know that it takes up space in our landfills and there are green alternatives," said Todd Blahnik who approves the ban.

At least one grocery chain is already speaking out against the full ban. In a statement released on Monday, an HEB spokesperson wrote: 

"We will collaborate with City staff, but we do not believe that switching to paper bags thus bringing in seven times the waste tonnage into the system, is a good idea."

Mayor Leffingwell wants a plan presented to council by November. He wants to begin phasing it in over the next six months to a year.

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