Following a growing worldwide trend to help drastically reduce levels of waste, Austin City Council has released the first draft of an ordinance to prohibit all single-use bags from retail stores by 2016.
The draft lays out the plan to try and ease the public into the prohibition, but while the ban itself will certainly foster plenty of debate, the blueprint for leading up to the ban may be the major hot-button issue.
Starting on Jan. 1, 2013, retail stores within the city limits cannot provide single-use bags to customers unless by request and with a surcharge of 25 cents per bag. On Jan. 1, 2016 all single-use bags will be banned from retail stores with reusable carryout bags being the only allowed options for consumers.
Plastic bag fees have been utilized before in other cities, but such a steep price for plastic bags that cost maybe two cents to produce seems especially punitive. Debates are sure to spring up concerning how much of a burden the surcharge will be on low-income consumers, although the draft plan does allow the fee to be waived for anyone paying with the state’s Lone Star Card. However, the state's financial assistance card only applies to food purchases and not to any other retail items.
What may also rile up many critics is that the ban doesn’t single out single-use plastic bags, but also includes single-use paper bags. Only paper bags that meet certain requirements, such as being produced from 100 percent recycled material, would be considered as “reusable” and could be sold after the ban is in effect.
The draft also outlines certain exemptions to the prohibition, including dry cleaning bags, bags provided by pharmacists for medication, and bags for packaging alcohol and spirits, among others.
It seems that the major criticisms levied against this proposed ordinance is whether it will affect major retail stores and low-income shoppers negatively and unfairly. For now, the public will be able to discuss the ban Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m. with the Solid Waste Advisory Committee at Austin City Hall. The public forum and debate may prove to be a true test to how committed the city of Austin is to environmental activism.