austin
5:15 am
Fri March 1, 2013

Plastic Bag Ban Now in Effect

If you’re going to the grocery store or planning a quick stop at the convenience store today, you’ll need to bring your own bag. Most businesses within the Austin city limits will have to abide by a new rule that prohibits them from providing paper or plastic single-use bags to customers.

While it will take getting used to, the switch to reusables that goes into effect today is good news to some Austinites.

Longtime environmentalists celebrated the end of an era with a party at Cherrywood Coffeehouse in Austin this week. Featured artist Bill Oliver pushed for a bag ban for decades.

“I won’t miss the bags in the streams, in the trees, in the fences,” Oliver said. “It will be nice if we can be without those.”

Before the concert, Oliver sported a triumphant smile while he rehearsed his victory song, “Bring Your Own Bag.”

But what has pleased Oliver has bothered some shop owners and customers who have had to rethink their ways of shopping and doing business.

At HEB, it’s taken months to retrain baggers and cashiers, spokeswoman Leslie Sweet said.

“We still want to make sure that our customers know that if they want to put their chicken or their meat in the clear bags that we have at those departments, they’re still more than welcome to do that,” Sweet said. “And those bags are exempted by the bag ordinance because they are bags used for food safety.”

Many Austin stores are already set for today’s transition. Scales at self-checkout counters have been recalibrated to accommodate the heavier bags. Signs are posted.

At Fiesta Mart on 38½ Street, assistant store manager John Vargas pulled out a plank that looks like the tray tables in airplanes. Boxes of single-use bags still lay under the trays.

“They’ll get sent back, get credit from the manufacturer,” Vargas said. “Everything is set up already. We have these little hooks right here. So we just take the racks off and everything will adapt to the new plastic bags.”

Outside the store, 68-year-old Mary Cadena acknowledged that the bag ordinance took her by surprise.

“It’s going to be hard to get used to it,” Cadena said. “But eventually -- it’s true. When my kids were small, not all of them used the seat-belt. We never had a ticket. And now, you have to. But it’s safer.”

While Cadena and other customers get used to the change, some stores will continue providing single-use bags -- for a fee. Many are charging more for those than the reusable bags. And single-use bags are still allowed for certain nonprofits and businesses like dry-cleaners and restaurants.