Austin City Council voted at 2 o’clock this morning to ban plastic and paper shopping bags starting March 2013.
City council was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal at 4 p.m. Thursday, but with a busy agenda, council didn’t get to the bag ban hearing until midnight.
Most speakers who stayed until midnight supported the bag ban, but some urged council not to vote at such a late hour.
“I think it’s really hard to make a decision at 12:41 a.m. and I’m going to tell you, I’m not in my best speaking self,” Jenn Studebaker told council. “Many of the people that came with me are not here. I think there’s a problem with that. You called a public hearing at midnight.”
But council appeared to have already made up its mind to pass the bag ban. The only squabbling was over specifics, like whether or not there should be a one-year transition period during which retailers would be required to charge for single-use bags.
By 2 a.m., the measure before council had been amended to become one of the most expansive bag ban proposals anywhere in the country. It passed unanimously, 7-0.
Council wound up stripping the transitional period from the original proposal. The full ban on single-use plastic and paper bags takes effect March 1, 2013.
Environmentalists erupted in cheers after the vote. “I am ecstatic that Austin has finally passed a comprehensive ordinance that will cut down on the use of single-use bags both paper and plastic,” Texas Campaign for the Environment director Robin Schneider told KUT News.
The bag ban had the tentative support of some retailers, including H-E-B, which sent a representative to council to propose some slight changes. But Texas Retailers Association president Ronnie Volkening was not happy with the outcome of the vote.
“This ordinance is moving us towards a regressive bag ban that will be borne disproportionately by low income citizens, by families, by tourists coming to visit the city,” Volkening said in an interview.
The city plans to conduct a marketing campaign over the next year to let people know what’s coming in March 2013. And while other Texas cities like Brownsville, Fort Stockton and South Padre Island have all adopted their own versions of a ban, Austin is now the largest city in Texas to have prohibited the use of single-use shopping bags.