Sunday, August 18, 2013
Dallas council briefed on plastic bag ban this week
It'll be months or even years before any decision is made.
It's been five months since Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway asked the city attorney to draft an ordinance banning the single-use plastic (and paper) shopping bag. But if a massive briefing prepared for Wednesday’s council meeting is any indication, it could be well more than a year before there’s a final vote on the subject.
And even then, it’s hard to say what the council will vote to do, if anything.
Ultimately, an ordinance banning the single-use carryout bag is just one option among many the council will be presented with this week. Perhaps the city will end up requiring retailers to charge for plastic bags; or maybe it will just ask retailers to ramp up reduction and recycling efforts (which has been tried in the past). Or: It could end up doling out bigger plastic bags that will hold a lot of smaller plastic bags, which would be collected in home recycling carts. Or: It could do a little bit of everything, or a whole lot of nothing.
In all the council, now packed with a handful of newcomers, will be presented with seven could-do’s, with a “litter proliferation study” at the very top of the list of possibilities. And, according to the briefing, it would be a massive undertaking: The Office of Environmental Quality would partner with “an academic institution to secure guidance on methodology and provide third-party objectivity.” The study would kick off in the fall and wrap up one year later, which, perhaps, will give the city breathing room while a lawsuit in Austin over its recently enacted bag ban winds it way through court.
But, according to the briefing, the city has already begun doing its homework: It conducted its own informal look-see at 32 Dallas grocers, from the Central Market on Lovers Lane to the Fiesta on Webb Chapel Road to the Trader Joe’s on Greenville Avenue to the Hunt Food Store on S. Loop 12, to see how they’re already dealing with the issue. The results were all over the map, as it were: “Ten of 32 have signs posted reminding shoppers to bring their reusable bags,” says the briefing, while only “14 of 32 offer plastic bag recycling bins on site.” And while most sell reusable bags, only “nine of 32 offer incentives for customers for bringing and using their own bags.”
City staff acknowledges in the briefing that bags littering, among other places, Five Mile Creek, Lake Cliff, and roadsides serve as the “motivation” for taking some kind of action. It also attempts to separate a few facts from some of the fictions offered by those vehemently opposed to a bag ban, chief among them the makers and distributors of plastic bags.
“You might hear plastic bags are only a fraction of the litter stream,” says the briefing. Which is true … sort of. “Plastic bags are light in weight and therefore a small fraction of the litter stream by weight, but they are a higher percentage by surface area, higher by count, and even higher by percentage when compared to all items that are caught in trees.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Mike Rawlings is receiving letters from, among others, the Boy Scouts and the North Texas Food Bank warning of “the unintended consequences” of a bag ban. He is also scheduled to meet Monday with the Texas Retailers Association, which filed the suit in Austin over its ban.
In the end, the council will be asked to consider the myriad questions clearly spelled out on Page 50 of the briefing, among them: “What is the overall objective?” “Continue status quo for convenience?” “Promote sustainability with a balanced solution?” And: “What happens if nothing is done?” And: “Should the ban be for only plastic or both plastic and paper?” And: “Should 4 mil (0.004-inch) thick plastic be allowed as a reusable bag?” And: “Should public education campaign include distribution of reusable non-woven bags?”
The briefing is scheduled to begin after Wednesday’s lunch break. It will more than likely end months, if not years, later.
Update on Dealing with Carryout Bags
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