in Houston, Texas
Plastic and paper grocery bags banned in Austin beginning in March 2013; $2 million to go for reusable bags for the poor, public awareness
Friday, Mar 02, 2012, 09:34AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
groceries

A benevolent as well as unanimous Austin City Council at 2 a.m. today granted its citizens the right to use only reusable bags when they shop and will charge them $2 million to explain why it was necessary.

Little wonder such a decree passed when most of the city was asleep.

Beginning in March of 2013 grocery and other retailers will no longer offer disposable plastic or papers bags, according to a story by KXAN-TV in Austin. Those retailers not following the new ordinance face being charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

Or at least such bagging had been criminalized in one of the many versions of the ordinance. Hoping to keep the process fluid so as not to bother the citizenry with so much detail, much still remains to be worked out, Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery, told the Council.

For instance, the education program. Gedert guessed about half of the “educating” would entail distributing reusable grocery bags for free in low-income areas of the city, a response to opponents who said the bag ban would be an inordinate burden on the poor.

And while the benefits of the bag ban were perfectly obvious to the six council members and Mayor Lee Leffingwell, the rest of the $2 million - a figure, given the city’s spending record, that is also fluid - will be spent helping the rest of the community understand.

An effort was made prior to the vote to convince the city’s recyclers to take plastic bags, the cleanup cost of which had been mistakenly and seriously inflated by Gedert. Gedert says the bags are not now recycled because they damage recycling machinery.

All of which is beside the point when your local government knows what is best for you. Or as Stacy Guidry, then-program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment told Texas Watchdog in January: “We support this bag ban no matter what it costs.”

UPDATE: This story was updated Monday, March 5, to make clear that Stacy Guidry is no longer the program director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of groceries by flickr user Esther17, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
Daniel
Friday, 03/02/2012 - 12:28PM

Have fun walking in dog shit all over downtown and in parks.

Stacy Guidry
Friday, 03/02/2012 - 03:39PM

Mark,

Thank you for notifying your readers of the bag ban passed last night. This has been an ongoing battle for 5 years with many stakeholder events and community forums over the years, especially since August 2011 when Mayor Leffingwell introduced a resolution instructing the city staff to draft a bag ban policy. Folks have had ample time to put in their 2-cents about this issue. If people are just now waking up to it, then I can't understand why some would be angry about a vote that happened at 2 AM.

Again, you've taken my words out of context. The quote you've used for this follow-up article was one used in a previous article before the bag ban vote. We talked about the city's unintentional use of skewed numbers from a Keep America Beautiful report to arrive at its assessment of cost to taxpayers for plastic bag clean up. The city has stated that it taxes residents $850,000/year for this cleanup, but the percentages from the KAB report included films an plastic wraps, not solely plastic bags. This revelation brought a heightened alarm for Austinites and the city has since then admitted to this mistake.

I stated that whether it costs taxpayers $200,000 or $850,000 for plastic bag cleanup, we'd support the bag ban because taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing litter abatement from plastic bag waste from local and national retailers and grocers. The way you've phrased it sounds to the reader that we had an "all or nothing attitude" and that no one was going to stand our way. This is entirely untrue and I wish, for the sake of what's left of journalism, that you would please do your readers justice and state the facts within the context discussed.

For the record, I am no longer the Program Director for TCE.

Sincerely,

Stacy Guidry

JohnFx
Saturday, 03/03/2012 - 09:12AM

God I hate the Austin City Council. They should be run out of town on a rail for this type of BS.

AustinTaxPayer
Sunday, 03/04/2012 - 10:46AM

Sure, give away $1 million in canvas bags to the poor. They'll need them to carry expensive Hefty and Glad bags home when they can no longer reuse the banned bags for trash can liners and kitty waste wrappers.

Retailers will be replacing the 0.5 mil plastic bags with the mandated 4.0 mil plastic bags and replacing the lightweight paper bags with more expensive heavy paper bags with handles. They will either have to sell us the new bags, or roll the increased bag costs into product/food prices. Why does the city have to spend an addtional $1 million of OUR money to "train us", when the transition is mandated?

Stores will be required to post in-store and parking lot signs reminding us to bring our own bags. Is this part of the $1 million "training" cost, or is the city expecting retailers to bear the burden of the mandated signage costs? If you have forgotten to bring your bags, then those signs are pretty worthless once you're already at the store.

The banned 0.5 mil bags seem to be the most eco-friendly for people who do reuse them (versus buying trash can liners off the shelf). They are easy enough and inexpensive to mail order, so that's what I'll be taking to the stores as my reusable shopping bags. They are banned for retailer distribution, not banned for consumer choice of which reusable bags to utilize.

Kathy
Wednesday, 04/25/2012 - 02:22AM

Plastic bags are viewed as a litter problem when in fact they have served to reduce a lot of litter. They have many home uses, disposal of diapers, cleaning up after pets, actually aid in keeping roads and parks cleaner, etc. Without access to these FREE plastic bags, how much more litter do you think there is going to be? Whatever benefits gained by banning them will be overshadowed by the new problems it creates. Just a few of them:

Increased Litter (now is that not irony??)

More Lost Jobs for Americans....oh well, at least China might benefit since most of the cloth bags are probably made there.

Angry, Annoyed customers, thus a burden to businesses

Increased Health Risk Concern? How sanitary will it be for employees to handle all these possibly unclean reuseable cloth bags everyday?

Increased Shoplifting...a lot easier to do when everyone is carrying bags throughout the store

Overall just one more burden that no one needs.

Thanks alot Austin City Council....you just threw the baby out with the bath water!

Canvas Bags
Saturday, 06/09/2012 - 12:15AM

Hi. Just a quick note to let you know that I truly appreciated this post. I have been looking for this kind of information. Keep up the good work!

Canvas Bags

DonJon
Tuesday, 01/08/2013 - 08:00PM

This the beginning of the many minor and major "inconveniences" that our consumer society will have to come to terms with. If you are counting on the planet's finite resources to support our infinite-growth-disposable economic order... Well, just look at the news on any given day, Mother Nature ain't so happy. Go ahead get the crying over and buck up and except that which we have wrought. I'm proud of the people of Austin and our council for doing what everyone of us will be forced to do one day.

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