City officials discuss ban on plastic bags in Austin stores

Syeda Hasan

Plastic may not be an option for Austin shoppers much longer.

City officials are deliberating on the best way to implement a ban on plastic shopping bags to lessen negative environmental impacts, Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced Monday.

Plastic bags cost the city roughly $850 thousand a year to clean up and dispose of, Leffingwell said in a press release. He said the proposed ban on the bags will be further discussed and voted on at the Aug. 4 City Council meeting.

“Single-use plastic bags are both harmful to the environment and costly to our local economy,” Leffingwell said. “They create litter in our rivers and streams. They’re harmful to wildlife and because bags are not biodegradable, they are around forever.”

Leffingwell’s spokesman Matt Curtis said city officials have attempted to reduce the use of disposable plastic bags in previous years by designing a voluntary program for retailers to limit the number of plastic bags they use, but the plan only reduced usage by 20 percent.

“Currently our community uses about 263 million plastic bags each year,” Curtis said. “The best thing to do for the environment and the economy is to look at ways to have a severe reduction of their usage.”

Curtis said the mayor’s team has asked City Manager Marc Ott to create a plan that will gradually reduce and eliminate the use of plastic bags. The best alternative for shoppers is to invest in reusable bags, he said.

“Plastic bags are bad for our community, and it is time to do something about it,” Curtis said. “This has been done in other communities, and it has worked. Austin is one of the most intelligent cities in the United States, so I think if this can work elsewhere it can work in Austin.”

He said while there are methods for recycling plastic bags, many still end up in landfills and are harmful because they do not decompose naturally.

“They cause more problems than anything,” Curtis said. “We do expect one thing out of this ban, and that is a drastic and hopefully complete reduction of plastic bags going into our local environment.”

English senior Thomas White said he feels more people would make the switch to reusable shopping bags if they did not have the option of using plastic bags.

“I understand they can have negative environmental impacts, and I’d be willing to work around not using plastic bags,” White said. “We all still have to buy groceries and carry them somehow, and I think the Austin community especially would be willing to work around the ban.”

Printed on Thursday, July 28, 2011 as: Austin may ban plastic shopping bags