City board to look at ban for plastic bags, straws, other plastic products

Group also will study fees and incentives to reduce plastic use

photo by: Associated Press

This file photo from Aug. 3, 2009 shows a clerk bagging groceries in plastic sacks at the M Street Grocery in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

A local advisory board will be looking at whether the city can play a role in reducing the amount of disposable plastic products used in Lawrence.

The city’s Sustainability Advisory Board voted earlier this month to make the issue of single-use plastics one of its priorities. Lawrence-Douglas County Sustainability Director Jasmin Moore said the board is forming a community work group to study single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, straws and food containers, and potential ways to reduce their use.

Moore, who is the board’s staff liaison, said the board took up the issue in response to calls from several community groups for a plastic bag ban or other restriction. After hearing public comment on the issue, Moore said the board decided it wanted to look at the topic more broadly and consider all single-use plastic products and strategies to reduce waste.

“The goal is to reduce the amount of plastic in general,” Moore said. “In the whole three Rs of reduce, reuse, recycle, looking upstream to the reduce component. And so what is a model that would be sustainable and equitable for Lawrence?”

Plastic bags, like the type used at grocery stores, have come under scrutiny in some communities because they are difficult to recycle. Lawrence’s curbside recycling program does not accept the plastic grocery bags. Plastic straws more recently have become a topic of environmental conversation. Some restaurants, theme parks, cruise lines and other large users of straws have stopped serving them with drinks, especially if they aren’t requested by diners. Straws also are difficult to recycle, and if not properly disposed can pose a risk to wildlife that mistake them for food.

Though some communities concerned about the quantity of plastic waste have banned certain throwaway products or plastic bags, Moore said the group’s research will look into multiple possibilities. In addition to considering a ban, Moore said the group will consider strategies such as fees for single-use plastics and an incentive program for businesses that move away from single-use plastics.

The work group will conduct research on the topic, and answer a list of questions that the board uses to approach sustainability issues, Moore said. The board will consider data regarding the current local conditions, models of best practices, financial implications and impacts on residents, among other factors.

Moore said that several community groups spoke to the board about plastic bags and other single-use plastics. She said that members of Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability, Wakarusa Group of the Sierra Club, Sustainability Action Network and students and staff from Kennedy Elementary School were all present at the board’s meeting.

Members of those groups have also brought up concerns regarding single-use plastics to the City Commission, which previously indicated that it would like to discuss the topic. The conversation re-emerged after a class of fourth-grade students at Kennedy Elementary School called up local leaders about their idea for a local ban or other restrictions on plastic bags. Ultimately, a group of the students gave a presentation to the commission in May.

This is also not the first time the Sustainability Advisory Board has discussed issues related to single-use plastics. Moore said it has been a frequent topic over the last several years, and that the idea of banning plastic bags was also discussed last summer. At that time, Moore said the board decided the topic did not align with its recently set priorities and decided not to take further action, but that the board’s view had changed.

“All the board members present at the meeting this month acknowledged that, and said it looks like now is the time to explore this in a deeper way than it has been in the past,” Moore said.

The work group will include community members and after conducting its research will bring a recommendation back to the board, which will ultimately provide a recommendation to the City Commission. Those interested in joining the work group may contact work group chair Michael Steinle at msteinle@gmail.com.

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