Plastic Bag Ban

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

Last week, a report commissioned by the City of Austin was released which looked at the effect of the plastic bag ban in the city.

The report says that, in the two years since the Austin City Council banned single-use plastic bags, Austin reduced its annual consumption of plastic bags by nearly 75 percent. But some researchers say that’s not entirely true.

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

*This post has been updated since Wednesday.

Two years after the city of Austin banned single-use plastic bags, a new report estimates Austinites have used nearly 200 million fewer plastic bags annually — a 75 percent reduction.

That report was presented Wednesday evening to Austin’s Zero Waste Advisory Commission.

While the estimated reduction in plastic bag use has gotten a lot of attention, another finding of the report has received much less: Single-use bags have been replaced in Austin recycling streams by another type of bag — the reusable plastic bag.

Callie Hernandez/KUT News

Every legislative session, there are bound to be bills targeting some regulation or other in Austin.

Which is why every session, Austin City Attorney Karen Kennard heads to the Capitol to learn more about the bills and to see if their impact on Austin would be positive or negative. These are her projections.

s-t-e-v-e-n/flickr

From the Austin Monitor:

Amid concerns that state leadership will take steps to limit city ordinances such as Austin’s plastic bag ban, the Zero Waste Advisory Commission has instructed city staff to study the ban in time to send the results to the state legislature.

The commission unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday requesting that the Austin Resource Recovery Department complete a study of the results of the city’s Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance by no later than May 1.

Muliadi Soenaryo via Texas Tribune

As proponents continue to tout the benefits of banning plastic bags, the debate over whether Texas cities like Austin actually have the ability to enact such ordinances has made its way to the attorney general's office.

In a letter [PDF] seeking an opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, questioned whether the city bans are in compliance with the state’s health and safety laws.

“At least nine cities in Texas have enacted bans on plastic bags and adopted fees on replacement bags in recent years,” the letter stated. “This appears to be in contravention of state law.”

flickr.com/velkr0

Five months ago, Austin cashiers stopped asking, “Paper or plastic?”  And since then, Austin retailers and customers have adjusted to the city ordinance banning single-use paper and plastic bags.

However, the Texas Retailers Association argues banning plastic bags does more harm than good.

flickr.com/atmtx

Update: The legislative session adjourns Monday – and Austin City Council members can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

All of the bills below disappeared into the legislative black hole – that is, they either never made it out of committee, or were never cleared for a vote.

Update (March 26): Here’s some additional bills that meet the Austin City Council’s definition of “Austin bashing” – legislation that would defang local policies.

  • HB 1858, Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin)

The bill would ban cities from restricting the removal of trees if a developer or land owner deems the tree to be a fire hazard. Opponents worry the bill provides a work-around the city’s Heritage Tree Ordinance, and point to an additional piece of Workman legislation, HB 3087, as creating additional development loopholes for removing trees.

flickr.com/eclipse_etc

Though Austin’s ban on plastic bags took effect March 1, the conversation about how consumers are coping is still going strong.

Austinites have been sounding off on social media about the benefits and inconveniences of banning plastic bags. One particularly in-depth conflict has erupted on an Austin Reddit thread, asking “How has Austin’s bag ban affected you?”

Single-Use Bag Ban: One Month In

Apr 3, 2013
www.flickr.com/photos/timparkinson/

Just over a month into Austin’s disposable bag ban and city retailers are still in compliance with the ordinance.

Austin Resource Recovery Center administers the program and helps businesses comply with the law. Spokesperson Courtney Black said most businesses are complying, but there have been hold-outs.

courtesy flickr.com/jonathanyoungblood

Five days into the Austin bag ban, a Texas lawmaker has filed a bill that would allow stores and shoppers to use whatever kind of bags they want.

First-term State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, calls his bill the Shopping Bag Freedom Act, which he says would stop what he calls “the overreach of big government.”

Tyler Pratt for KUT News

Update: Austin appears to have survived its first weekend without single-use plastic bags. But, judging from Twitter, many are still getting used to the change. 

courtesy flickr.com/adav

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.

flickr.com/velkr0

Update: Alexandria Bruton, Public Information Specialist with the City of Austin, has issued the following statement on the bags lawsuit: 

“Although the City has not yet been served with the lawsuit, we are familiar with the allegations and we are prepared to defend the ordinance. We stand behind the intent of the ordinance and do not believe it poses a hardship to affected businesses. The City is committed to working with businesses to help them comply with the ordinance and offers a number of resources to make this process as easy as possible.”  

Original post: Austin’s ban on single-use bags starts Friday. But a business group hasn’t stopped fighting against it.

The Texas Retailers Association has filed a lawsuit against the city, arguing the ban is against the state's Health and Safety Code. “We are bringing this suit regarding a state statue that we only fairly recently became aware of, which says no local government may pass an ordinance that prohibits or restricts baggage or containers like plastic bags," association president Ronnie Volkening said. 

Ann Choi, KUT News

Correction: The City of Austin disputes the expense of social media outreach in its reusable bag campaign. See the update below for more. 

Austin’s plastic bag ban goes into effect in eight days, and city officials are pulling in a celebrity endorsement for their campaign: Willie Nelson.

Or, his statue at least. 

"One bag just like the one Willie Nelson is holding literally can replace hundreds … six hundred or so … thin plastic bags that you see today,” city council member Mike Martinez said at a press conference in front of the bronze Nelson statue outside the ACL Live theater downtown.

flickr.com/heatheronhertravels

In less than two weeks, Austin’s new reusable bag ordinance goes into effect.

Most Austin businesses, whether big or small, have until now bought plastic bags in bulk to save money. Big department stores and retailers can go through thousands of bags in a matter of days. But for smaller stores it can take months to use up inventory. So what will those businesses do with all those bags?

courtesy flickr.com/adav

Austin’s Bag Ordinance goes into effect soon. Starting March 1, the majority of Austin businesses will stop providing single-use paper and plastic bags. That’s because the City of Austin has a goal of zero waste by the year 2040. This measure is among the first steps toward that goal. Businesses and customers alike are already making some adjustments.

flickr.com/slice

Austin’s ban on some single-use bags goes into effect in just over three weeks. Today, area businesses will get training on the new bag rules.

The city is holding two training sessions for restaurants, grocery stores and retail stores: one this morning, and another one at 6 p.m.

flickr.com/jennecy

Austin is a little more than a month away from its plastic bag ban, and some questions are still up in the air.

The Austin City Council approved the change last year, and the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance stipulates that single-use bags for sacking groceries will soon be phased out – meaning Austinites must make use of reusable grocery bags. And as a precaution, shoppers should make sure their bags see more than the checkout aisle – try the laundry room.

www.flickr.com/photos/arselectronica

Confused about Austin’s coming bag ban? You’re not alone.

Austin Resource Recovery, tasked with reaching the city’s zero waste by 2040, is hosting carryout bag training sessions for local businesses at the Austin City Hall this morning.

The training is designed prepare businesses for the plastic bag ban that takes effect in March 2013.

Originally, the ban barred the use of most single use paper and plastic bags, but late last week the City Council approved adding some exemptions. Now, restaurants will largely be exempt.

courtesy flickr.com/jonathanyoungblood

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."

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