in Houston, Texas
Austin bag ban up for vote, could go into effect in 2013; see Texas Watchdog story on cost inflation in city estimates
Friday, Feb 10, 2012, 11:29AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Hoping to keep a captive public guessing, Austin waste officials still aren’t quite sure what kind of ban on plastic bags they want, but they are sure it is time to vote on it.

The City Council has scheduled yet another public hearing prior to taking a vote March 1, according to a story by the Austin American-Statesman.

Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery, now thinks March of 2013 is the perfect time to prevent shoppers from taking home their groceries in inexpensive, disposable plastic bags.

He thinks. Maybe. He’s pretty sure.

Less than a year ago, Gedert thought Austin ought to ease into a ban, maybe in 2016. Then he thought 2014 might be better.

But there has been so much to think about since Gedert and the city started to get serious about the locust-like plague of plastic grocery bags swirling, tumbling, clotting and generally blighting Austin.

There was the matter of criminalizing the bags, making it a Class C misdemeanor to continue to bag groceries and other goods in them. And deciding that it really didn’t make any difference whether the actual estimated cost to clean up plastic bags was as much as $600,000 less than thought because of Gedert’s miscalculation.

Gedert had once considered charging a fee for the bags, providing a small discomfort on the way to the greater irritant. He had trouble deciding if the city should charge by the bag or the transaction.

No matter. We’ll skip the interim fee period altogether and go right to the plastic bag ban, Gedert told the council. But what, several council members asked, are we to do about paper bags, the exclusion of which prompted lawsuits in California.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell, a plastic bag banner from way back, says he isn’t sure about banning paper because they can be recycled easily and cheaply, two words rarely used during this entire plastic bag debate.

Gedert wonders why paper bags should be banned when the council sought exemptions for paper and plastic for bagging meat and produce. Can’t the cost of cleaning up bags for bulk goods and those big, billowy dry cleaning bags be over-estimated, too, without resorting to an exemption?

And in whose pocket is a council eager to grant exemptions for booze, wine and beer bags, bags for carry-out food and those windsock-like newspaper sleeves?

The list of cities around the country passing bag bans is growing and so, too, are the lawsuits contending the bans are overreaching and selectively punitive.

So very many questions, so little time and so confusing for Austin. Gedert thinks he has that worked out, too. Whatever the city comes up with by March 1 will be fully explained in a two-year, $2 million education program, Gedert says.

For taxpayers, paid by taxpayers.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of groceries by flickr user Librarian By Day, used via a Creative Commons license.

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