Lawrence City Commission to discuss proposal to charge for disposable plastic and paper bags

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)

City leaders will soon discuss a proposal to charge people for disposable grocery and shopping bags in an effort to reduce waste.

As part of its study session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will discuss the Sustainability Advisory Board’s recommendation that the city develop an ordinance that would charge a 16-cent fee per bag upon checkout for both single-use plastic and paper bags, but would exempt some types of bags. Exempted bags would include those used to carry raw meat, seafood and bulk items, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts.

As currently proposed, the fee would apply to grocers and retailers, but Lawrence-Douglas County Sustainability Director Jasmin Moore, who is the staff liaison to the board, previously told the Journal-World that further discussion would occur regarding what businesses would be included.

The commission referred the topic to the board last year after a class of fourth-graders at Kennedy Elementary School proposed that the city ban single-use plastic bags after learning about the effect of plastic bags on the environment and animals. The board ultimately formed a subcommittee to research a potential ban.

The board’s recommendation is based in part on data and research collected by a class of graduate students at the University of Kansas School of Public Affairs & Administration. The board is recommending a fee as the most effective way to reduce waste caused by disposable shopping bags because bans enacted in some cities resulted in retailers and grocers using thicker plastic bags that didn’t qualify as disposable but that some customers still threw away. Sixteen cents is the estimated “social cost” of a single plastic bag, in terms of environmental harms, litter cleanup and the burden it places on recycling, sewer and waste processing systems, according to the students’ report.

Based on national estimates of per-capita plastic bag use, it’s estimated that Lawrence residents use between about 30 to 35 million plastic shopping bags annually, according to the report. In addition to the waste associated with the bags themselves, bags that end up in streams, rivers and oceans cause pollution and threaten wildlife. Lawrence shoppers recently interviewed by the Journal-World about the potential fee were generally supportive, but some noted that they do reuse the bags for things such as lining trashcans and picking up pet waste.

The board is recommending that revenue collected from bag sales should be allocated to the following three areas, according to a city staff memo to the commission:

• To address administration and evaluation costs associated with implementing the policy, including collecting baseline data six months prior to program initiation

• To support local environmental education and environmental initiatives

• To support programming for low-income Lawrence residents, including access to reusable bags

The memo states that city staff acknowledges that charging a fee for disposable bags would have various legal, infrastructure and logistical implications, and that staff will awaits City Commission direction before doing additional in-depth research regarding those considerations.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

Related stories

July 2 — Sustainability Advisory Board advances proposal to charge 16-cent fee for single-use bags

June 28 — Lawrence shoppers have mixed emotions on proposed 16-cent fee for single-use bags

June 25 — Sustainability Advisory Board to consider recommendation to charge for disposable plastic and paper bags in Lawrence

Oct. 12, 2018 — Research, focus groups underway regarding potential ban for plastic bags, straws, other plastic products

Aug. 24, 2018 — Dillons’ parent company begins phasing out plastic bags at stores

July 27, 2018 — City board to look at ban for plastic bags, straws, other plastic products

May 21, 2018 — Lawrence fourth-graders start discussion at City Hall about plastic bag ban


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