Retailers Will Feel Effects of Bag Restrictions
By Bettina Meier
The clock is ticking down until single-use bags are banned in Austin. In just six months, stores will no longer be allowed to provide them to customers. But not everyone is ready for the bag ban to take effect.
Aslam Motiwala owns a grocery store in Northeast Austin. He’s heard of the bag ban the city is working on and does not like it. He hands out plastic bags every day and says nine out of 10 of his customers ask for one.
“It’s so easy and comfortable to carry groceries, so it’s hard, yes,” Motiwala said. “Probably the customer needs to bring his own bag. It’s very hard for them.”
Starting March 1, the city of Austin will not allow stores, supermarkets or even restaurants to give out plastic bags thinner than 4 mil. That’s about four-thousandths of an inch; standard plastic grocery bags are less than 1 mil thick. Also banned will be paper bags without handles.
Jessica King with Austin Resource Recovery, the city department responsible for trash collection and recycling, says the thicker bag allows for more frequent re-use.
“We are hopeful that the system will work its way through,” King said. “That’s the issue; if you can go to the retailer and bring your own bags, you reduce the amount of waste you generate in the first place.”
That means there still will be plastic and paper bags. They’ll just be thicker and have handles, which the city hopes will encourage people to bring their own.
But the thicker bag will be more expensive to produce. The city ordered some bags for 33 cents apiece. That’s a price that shop owner Motiwala says he could not afford.
“Thirty-three cents is a lot per bag,” he said. “If it’s somebody buying a $5 product and they are using this plastic bag, 7 percent is our cost. If you buy a $5 product and I say, give me 50 cents, you like it? No.”
Motiwala says he will definitely have to pass on the costs to the customer if a bag costs 33 cents or more. The Texas Retailers Association says the cost will drive customers out of Austin to shop in neighboring towns where they don’t have to pay for a bag.
“We have seen it in other jurisdictions when an area bans plastic bags, the stores inside the area see a drop in their sales and the stores on the outside see an increase in sales, because customers want the convenience of having those plastic bags,” said Ronnie Volkening, president of the retailers association.
He says retailers will also need to re-engineer their checkout areas to store the bigger bags.
Austin Resource Recovery is still working out all the details of the ban, which it will present to the City Council in October.