‘Bring Your Own Bag’ ordinance moves ahead

Steve Eberly, a member of Linden Hills Power & Light, dressed as a plastic bag monster during Monday's public hearing at City Hall on the proposed ban on single-use plastic carryout bags.

A City Council committee voted Monday to pass a proposed ban on single-use plastic carryout bags at city retailers after hearing from dozens of supporters of the measure, including a man wearing a costume made of 500 plastic bags.

Steve Eberly, the self-described plastic bag monster and member of the Linden Hills Power & Light board of directors, joined several others in testifying before the Council’s Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee to urge the Council to pass the measure to help reduce litter and the city’s carbon footprint.

He noted that the typical shopper uses about 500 plastic bags each year.

A few business leaders did speak out against the proposal, including Jamie Pfuhl, president of the Minnesota Grocers Association. She said consumers should be able to choose between plastic, paper or their own reusable bags when shopping.

She said many retailers have plastic bag recycling programs in place.

The proposed “Bring Your Own Bag” ordinance, authored by Council Members Cam Gordon and Abdi Warsame, bars retailers in the city from offering customers single-use plastic carryout bags. Instead, they are required to offer recyclable paper, compostable or reusable bags for 5 cents.

The proposed ordinance would go into effect April 22, 2017.

There are several exemptions, including bags for produce, take-out foods, newspapers, door-hanger, laundry-dry cleaning and bags sold in packages for garbage, pet waste or yard waste.

Robin Garwood, a policy aide for Gordon, said the goal is to encourage people to get in the habit of bringing their own bags to the store when shopping.

Many of the plastic bags in Minneapolis end up at the downtown garbage burner. They also are a menace to single-sort recycling machines and a big source of litter, ending up in waterways and trees and posing a hazard to birds and other animals.

Minnesotans, on average, throw away 87,000 tons of plastic bags each year, Garwood told the Council committee.

Council Member Andrew Johnson raised concerns that the ordinance would increase the use of paper bags, which have a higher carbon footprint since more energy is required to produce them. He said he planned to work with Gordon and Warsame before the final Council vote to come up with a way to address that issue.

Paper carryout bags create 64 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 18 pounds of emissions for plastic carryout bags, according to a fact sheet Garwood presented to the Council committee.

The full Council will vote on the proposed ordinance April 1.

Many cities, states and countries have enacted laws addressing the environmental impact of plastic carryout bags, including Seattle, Portland, Austin, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, among others.