Lawrence city leaders pass ordinance banning single-use plastic bags; it takes effect in March

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Lawrence City Commission listens to a presentation during a Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023 meeting.

Lawrence city leaders on Tuesday approved a long-discussed ordinance that imposes a ban on single-use disposable plastic bags.

After years of public debate, Ordinance No. 9996 was passed by a 3-2 vote at Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, with commissioners Brad Finkeldei and Amber Sellers opposed. Besides broadly banning the kinds of plastic bags people in Lawrence might currently use to transport their purchases home from the grocery store, the ordinance also sets the fine structure for establishments that violate the ban and codifies the specifications for the thicker reusable plastic bags that will be allowed. Now that it’s been passed, the ordinance will take effect March 1, 2024.

Ahead of the vote, Commissioner Courtney Shipley pointed out that much larger cities than Lawrence, such as Seattle and Washington, D.C., have successfully implemented bans on single-use plastic bags like this one.

“The fact that it took us this long to even get this far in the conversation is kind of an example of how we get in our own way sometimes,” Shipley said.

As defined by the ordinance, a “single-use disposable plastic bag” is any plastic bag less than 4.0 mils of thickness provided to consumers by an establishment at the point of sale or another point of departure for the purpose of transporting food, beverages or other merchandise.

In the ordinance as approved, a variety of groups and products are exempt from the ban:

• Religious and charitable institutions, schools and nonprofit organizations, except when they’re engaged in the “commercial sale or distribution” of items to consumers.

• Farmers markets

• Prescription drugs

• Newspapers

• Live animals, such as fish or insects

• Produce

• Laundry, as with dry cleaning or garment bags

The ordinance returned to the City Commission’s agenda after last being discussed at a meeting in late June where it failed to pass on a 2-2 vote, with Finkeldei and Sellers also voting against it that time.

A few weeks later, Mayor Lisa Larsen — who was absent for the vote in June — asked commissioners whether they might be interested in considering the ordinance again at an upcoming meeting, and the group agreed.

Back in June, Sellers voted against the ordinance because she was concerned about the city code enforcement division’s request for another full-time code compliance officer responsible for enforcing the ban as part of the 2024 budget process. She still had that concern this time around, and also expressed an interest in setting a sunset provision of three years to encourage commissioners to examine the ordinance again after 2026.

Finkeldei in June expressed concerns about how the ordinance would affect local businesses, but he didn’t discuss his reasons for voting against the ordinance again in any further detail Tuesday.


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