Lawrence City Commission expresses support for plastic and paper bag fee or ban; more research will be done

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 indicated Tuesday that they are interested in pursuing a proposal to charge people for disposable grocery and shopping bags in an effort to reduce waste and help the environment.

As part of a study session, the Lawrence City Commission discussed the Sustainability Advisory Board’s recommendation that the city develop an ordinance that would have grocery stores and other retailers charge a 16-cent fee per bag upon checkout for both single-use plastic and paper bags. The proposal would exempt some types of bags, such as those used to carry raw meat, seafood and bulk items such as fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Board Chair Jackie Carroll told the commission that the proposed fee is meant to help the environment, not to raise revenue.

“Its intent is to change habits, to reduce plastic creation, consumption and waste,” Carroll said. “We hope this is not a long-term policy and that there will be more environmentally friendly single-use plastic bag options soon.”

Board Vice Chair Michael Steinle said that plastic bags typically have a useful lifespan of about 12 minutes from a store to the home, but that they take decades to decompose and that a very small percentage of plastic bags are recycled. He added that paper bags can only be recycled two or three times and that paper production uses more energy and releases more pollutants than plastic production.

Commissioners all said they were interested in the proposal, and Mayor Lisa Larsen and Commissioner Leslie Soden also said they would be interested in discussing an outright ban of plastic and paper bags.

Larsen, a retired environmental geologist, said that she had sampled water supplies all over the state as part of her fieldwork. She said it was sometime in the 1980s when they first started finding chemicals in the water related to the breakdown of plastics, and that it has only been getting worse. She said the city’s discussion was long overdue, but that the commission needed to be careful in its implementation.

“What I think is important to remember, though, is that it’s not what needs to happen — we need to get rid of plastic bags, as well as many plastic things — but how we do this,” Larsen said. “It’s how we accomplish this task. And I agree with my commissioners that we need to make sure we do this really thoughtfully.”

Lawrence-Douglas County Sustainability Director Jasmin Moore told the commission that Lawrence would be the first community in Kansas to implement a bag ban or fee, and further research would be needed to see exactly how such a proposal would need to be implemented.

The commission directed city staff and the board to do more research about how the proposal would be carried out and enforced. Questions for further research included which businesses and bags the charges would apply to and how the city would ensure the fee was charged. The proposal also calls for annual giveaways of free reusable bags, and Vice Mayor Jennifer Ananda also suggested the city look into eliminating the fee for people utilizing government food assistance programs.

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. 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. Sixteen cents is the estimated “social cost” of a single plastic bag in terms of environmental harm, litter cleanup and the burden it places on recycling, sewer and waste processing systems.

The proposal will come back to the commission for further discussion at a later date.

City Commission Work Session 08/13/19


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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