Austin’s commitment to becoming a “zero waste” city by 2040 came into question today, as the City Council approved adding exemptions to the plastic bag ban that takes effect in March 2013.
Restaurants will now be exempt from the bag ban. Some citizens expressed that the exemption deviates from the goals of the original ban and provides too big of a loophole. (Whole Foods, Central Market and Wheatsville Co-op all serve hot dishes, for example.)
Mayor Lee Leffingwell disagrees. "This is addressing in a meaningful way something that's a real problem," Leffingwell said, "and we've done that for other uses of plastic bags where we've seen that there's not a reasonable alternative – newspapers, dry cleaning for example. I think it's pretty obvious once you think about it – obviously we didn't think about it [then], but once you do think about carrying out a bag full of barbeque sauce in a paper bag, it's not a good idea."
Other businesses will now have two opportunities to continue using plastic bags. They have through the end of the year to apply for a “hardship variance,” or they can claim the need for “emergency access” to single use bags. Those variances are good for three years.
Representatives of chain restaurants and big retailers were also at City Hall today. They congratulated City Council for the changes.
The bag ban goes into effect on March 1, 2013. Fines range from $100 to $2,000.